A project supports the complex biodiversity of a wildlife corridor. Like many people, Wendy King enjoys riding her bike on the rail trail that runs from Rosebery on Slocan Lake to Summit Lake. By late summer, however, it can be safer to avoid the wetland section: “The bears are abundant and love the riparian zones for foraging and preparing for winter,” she says.

They’re not the only ones that adore this place. Referred to as the Bonanza Biodiversity Corridor, this 23 kilometre wetland and wildlife corridor is home to a vast range of species, including grizzlies, beavers, moose, western toads, Kokanee salmon and great blue herons, not to mention old-growth western red cedar and rare lichens, mosses and mollusks. “We have over 55 species at risk in the corridor,” King says. “It’s pretty wild and very unique in biodiversity for the Kootenays.”

To safeguard this space and the plants and animals that rely on it, the Slocan Lake Stewardship Society has completed a three year project to restore three wetlands in the corridor, supported by the Trust and the Kootenay Connect initiative funded by Environment and Climate Change Canada.

One of the key issues was the old railway bed, built over a century ago. Running the length of the valley, it created barriers that cut off pockets of wetlands from each other. The project focused on reconnecting and enhancing these aquatic habitats, all while ensuring that trail users could continue to enjoy this spectacular location.

“To be fully functioning, wetlands need to be moving,” says King, President of the society. “In periods of high water, like freshets in the spring, when everything’s melting, the water needs to flow from one wetland section to another without having the rail trail impede these natural flows.”

For two of the restoration sites, the solution was to add swales: dips across the trail, filled with rocks, that better permit water to pass, and sometimes fish and western toads. The occasional pedestrian walkway was added above for humans. “Trail users can enjoy the trail and, at the same time, nature is rewarded with improved water flows.”

Another important step was to add vegetation. “We planted over 2,000 shrubs and trees in an area that had been cleared and disturbed. In almost two years now, we’ve seen amazing growth and the survivability is really good.” By shading the creek, these plants help stop evaporation, keep the water cool and improve spawning habitat for rainbow trout.

Stream banks also needed to be stabilized, plus the creek required contouring where it had started to run straight alongside the trail. “For healthy habitats, water retention and filtering, you need a meandering creek,” King says. “That’s very important.” To encourage this, the group sharpened the ends of cedar logs and rammed them into the banks, submerging them into the water for a natural habitat enhancement.

These efforts, including additional activities like constructing ponds and mounds and removing ineffective culverts, are already having effects. That’s why the project was a great match for support from the Trust, which works to help groups in the region maintain and improve ecological health in the Basin’s ecosystems. Hands-on work like this, at a large scale, across entire landscapes, aims to create lasting effects.

For Bonanza, “In one year, we’ve seen the amphibian population explode in one of the wetlands,” King says. The benefits also extend beyond the wetlands, as they bring a substantial amount of nutrients and cold water into Slocan Lake.

The group will now continue to monitor the sections and adjust if necessary. “We really are just coaxing nature to be the best it can be.”