The Williams Lake Community Forest continues to grow as a community asset.
A partnership between the city of Williams Lake and Williams Lake First Nation, the community forest has two blocks - one is at Ne Sextine - Flat Rock, west of Williams Lake and the other is at Peskwenkwiem - Big Lake, east of Williams Lake.
“There’s a business piece, there’s a cultural sharing piece, and it’s amazing how much the community forest has become part of the ongoing relationship and relationship building between the city of Williams Lake and Williams Lake First Nation,” said Hugh Flinton who manages the community forest with Kent Watson.
“We work with Williams Lake First Nation and the City of Williams Lake very closely to manage these forests.”
On Friday, Sept. 15, Flinton gave the Tribune a tour in the Ne Sextine-Flat Rock block in an area where more than 300 students visit each year to learn about forests, dubbed by Flinton as an outdoor classroom.
We walked along the Hydrology Trail, which was completed in 2020 and spearheaded by the Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society (CCCS).
When the trail was opened, the CCCS said it had been made possible because of a partnership with the Williams Lake First Nation, Williams Lake Community Forest, Pacific Salmon Foundation, Northern Shuswap Language and Culture Society.
The entire Ne Sextine-Flat Rock block is about 9,000 hectares.
In the last 10 years, about 1,000 hectares of forest cover in the block has been changed into a healthier ecosystem with some of those areas visible from the trail.
Treed areas have been opened up so there is more understory, grass, shrubs and forage for cattle, which could be seen grazing in the distance.
Prescribed burning in the Flat Rock block near Dipping Road last spring was also part of ecosystem restoration, he added.
Russell fences are in place to help riparian areas recover back to their natural state and water access for the cattle is restricted to one end of the small lake at the site.
ATV access to the water is also restricted in an effort to help restore the ecosystem, Flinton said.
Traditionally fires burned through every five to 25 years and before colonization, First Nations managed the forest with fire, Flinton said.
“There is lots of evidence of that.”
New children’s story boards have been installed by the Cariboo Chilcotin Partners for Literacy, with the most recent being I Hear You Forest by Kallie George and illustrated by Carmen Mok.
Students of all ages have been helping the community forest in various ways.
Grade sevens do fuel management each year and return in the winter to study winter survival by building shelters from available woody debris.
Local Kindergarten students have made little wooden fairy houses and placed them along the trail, adding a magical touch.
In August 2023, third year University of British Columbia forestry students attending a field school spent time in the community forest to classify plants, vegetation, soil and map some riparian areas.
Evidence shows there were ancient Indigenous village sites throughout the community forest, Flinton said.
“The Fraser River was a travelling and trading corridor for thousands of years.”
Community use of the site is steadily increasing with the majority of users being very respectful, he added.
“There are lots of kids now that come through the school who have already been here with their families. It’s a familiar place, which is pretty cool.”
He said the managers work with a board of directors - three appointed by the City and three by WLFN.
They also work closely with one ranch in the Flat Rock block and five ranches in the Big Lake Block.
Flinton has worked in the forest since 2015, has been a co-manager since 2017, and said his job is one of the best he has ever had.
“It’s awesome,” he said, smiling.
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