Land donation creates research opportunities

TRU is adding a “living laborato­ry” to its research and teaching facili­ties thanks to a recent land donation.

Helmcken Falls in Wells Gray Park, near the recently donated land. (Frank Kovalchek/Flickr Commons)

Helmcken Falls in Wells Gray Park,
near the recently donated land.
(Frank Kovalchek/Flickr Commons)

Roland and Anne Neave donated 160 acres of undeveloped land, locat­ed about two hours north of Kam­loops near Wells Gray Park. The site was officially dedicated on Sept. 29.

The newly minted Neave Family Wetlands are about 10 minutes from the TRU Wilderness Centre and TRU Research and Education Cen­tre. The university operates 15 acres for studies in geography, biology, natural resource science and fine arts, as well as retreats for groups like the volleyball team.

TRU dean of science Tom Dick­inson said the donated land provides a unique opportunity for research since it is both undisturbed by hu­mans and fed from a contained wa­tershed.

“When they drew the park, they drew the tops of the mountains and connected all the tops of the mountains,” Dickinson said. “So it becomes a single watershed that is entirely protected, and you don’t find that anywhere else in the world.”

David Hill is an associate profes­sor and researcher at TRU dealing with hydrology (the study of water, its movement and management). He said he is excited about the wetlands’ potential and is discussing research opportunities with the faculty of sci­ence.

“It’s really, really important when doing moderate-skill hydrology to be able to close your boundaries so that you can get an idea of how much is infiltrating into the soil, how much is being captured by the plants, how much is put back into the atmo­sphere, etc.,” he said. “So this large tract of land is immensely useful for those kinds of studies and couldn’t be done without it.”

The university is also considering research on climate change, eco­logical studies like the migration of songbirds, and historical research into the area’s volcanic origins.

“This is a scenario of pristine habi­tat that we already know we can start research on,” said Louis Gosselin, TRU biological sciences professor. “We can do twenty years of research and we know it’s not going to be cut down.”

Tourism programs are also inter­ested in the site.

According to Roland Neave, his family has owned the land since 1994 but rarely used it, since they owned property in Wells Gray Park itself. About two years ago, Neave approached Dickinson about the idea of donating the property to be used for research.

“He [Dickinson] came and took a look at the property and was really impressed with what he saw as far as the number of animal and bird species and just the ecological biodi­versity of the property,” Neave said. “So he became the first cheerleader on it.”

“It took two years from that point for Tom to convince others that this was a good idea,” Neave added.

Dickinson said he hopes to put in a boardwalk and observation towers to minimize human impact.

“Even though it would disturb [the land] a little bit, it would protect the majority of the ecology of the area,” he said.