Nearly seven years after the provincial government declared the McAbee Fossil Beds east of Cache Creek a heritage site and closed the beds to the public, the site is welcoming visitors once again.
The Bonaparte Indian Band holds title to the site.
Deb Arnott, general manager of Community Futures Sun Country, said the June 21 opening was referred to as a soft opening.
“We’re calling it a soft opening because there are a lot of unknowns,” she said.
The McAbee Fossil Beds are part of a former lake bed that was deposited more than 50-million years ago. Over time, insects, leaves, feathers, pollen and more sank to the lake bed, where they were covered by layers of fine silt and preserved as fossils. The site is recognized as containing the province’s most diverse array of plants and insects from the Eocene Epoch.
Arnott was one of the founders of the McAbee Working Group in April 2016, which was composed of area volunteers attempting to see the McAbee site developed and re-opened.
The group received funding to have a business plan created and complete some work at the site. Due to a number of factors — including the 2017 wildfires — work was delayed, but Arnott said that the site is ready to receive visitors who want to learn more about its 53-million-year-old fossils and Indigenous history.
Two youth from the Bonaparte Indian Band have been working at the site and are there to greet visitors, show them around the site on newly constructed trails, explain its history and answer questions. Arnott said they will also be asking for feedback from visitors.
“This is our exploratory year,” she said. “The youth will talk to visitors, ask them why they came there and what they’d like to see. We’ll get feedback and data so that we can plan for the future. We’re open to advice.”
The site is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursdays through Mondays. There is no admission fee.
“We’re trying to build awareness of the site and we want the community to feel a part of it,” Arnott said. “That’s what will make it a success.”
In addition to the new trails, there are picnic tables at the site, as well as a pit toilet, potable water and a shelter for protection from the elements. Gravel has been put down in the parking lot and new fencing and a new gate erected. Arnott said that if there are slow days with few visitors, the two youth at the site can work on the trails.
“They’ve both worked at the site in the past. They’ve studied its plants and fossils, know how everything fits in with Indigenous culture and been a big part of the work there,” she said. “We want them to take ownership and leadership of the site.”
Funding for the youth comes from the province’s Heritage Conservation Branch and stewardship is being provided by Community Futures Sun Country. Arnott said funding for the students is in place only for this summer as they gather information. After that, those involved will determine what worked and what didn’t work.
“Our goal is to have it open as long as possible [this year], while our long-term goal is to have a permanent centre there. The business plan developed for the McAbee Working Group is being used as a blueprint. We need to decide what structures we want to see there, what the cost would be and what kind of funding we need,” Arnott said.
The site is of cultural and historic importance to Indigenous people and Arnott said she has been meeting regularly with the Bonaparte Indian Band chief and council, as well as community members, to keep them informed.
“It’s a regional project that everyone should benefit from,” Arnott said. “We all need to benefit from it.”