Travel Story 

Celebrating the Okanagan environment

PentictonÕs Meadowlark Festival is one of many in the Peach City


By Jack Christie

Photography by Louise Christie

Penticton, the ÒPeach City,Ó might just as easily be called the Festival City. In this town, thereÕs always some serious fun going on. Best known for its rockinÕ-good-time Peach Festival each August (now in its sixth decade), the city of 32,000 spread between Okanagan and Skaha Lakes also hosts Fest-of-Ale in April, multiday wine festivals in May and October, a campy Beach Blanket Film Festival in July, and a jazz festival in September. In addition, enough Ironmen (and Ironwomen) turn out annually for the August swim-bike-run triathlon to throw a compass seriously out of whack.

One of the cityÕs most successful gatherings is the Meadowlark Festival. Now in its eighth year, it features almost 100 events spread throughout the south Okanagan and neighbouring Similkameen Valley from May 19th to 23rd. The festival is staged by the Okanagan Similkameen Conservation Alliance, a group dedicated to promoting environmental awareness of one of CanadaÕs most endangered ecosystems. Although that hardly sounds as exciting as rolling out a barrel or casting a blanket on sun-baked sand, the festival, which attracts more than 3,000 knowledge-hungry visitors, couldnÕt be more engaging, particularly with those who enjoy celebrating the return of the western meadowlark, one of the most golden-throated denizens of the bird world. Consider what authors Nancy Baron and John Acorn have to say in Birds of Coastal British Columbia (Lone Pine Publishing, 1997): ÒMeadowlark songs are like cups full of music being poured from a pitcher. Once heard, they are not forgotten.Ó

Although this member of the blackbird group may be the festivalÕs poster child, a host of other life forms, such as toads, rattlesnakes, bats, bluebirds, and mountain goats, share top billing, at least when it comes to field trips that focus on these creaturesÕ respective habitats and which regularly are among the first to sell out. Such events are part of a showcase that focuses attention on an hourglass-shaped portion of the Okanagan Valley that lies between Summerland and Osoyoos (with Penticton at its hub) and serves as a concentrated area for bird and animal migration between the Cariboo and the Great Basin Desert to the south. With less than 10 per cent of the OkanaganÕs original habitat intact (a third of which lies undisturbed on Native lands), itÕs small wonder that this area is under increasing threat, especially as each year more land is developed into vineyards, golf courses, and residential property.

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