WALLACE: Saving the city’s neighbourhood Narnias

Going forward, there will most certainly be more fires. In addition to protecting lives and homes, the city will also need to ensure it gives residents peace of mind — educating about evacuation routes and procedures and assuring it will alert them with critical information at the time when they need it most.

Valleyview residents waited a long time for a trailhead at Sunset Lane and Valleyview Drive to reopen.

What may seem like a dirt patch to some who race in their vehicles en route to Orchards Walk, is in fact a doorway to Narnia — home to children’s mischief, kilometres of running trails and a place for untethered dogs to leap after balls.

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A quick offshoot into the hills and it no longer feels like you’re in the city. This isn’t even one of the city’s busiest trailheads.

Valleyview residents had become cooped up during the COVID-19 pandemic, in need of outdoor relief, around the same time the city shuttered the hillside entryway to twin the Valleyview reservoir. Consider the fact there is no dog park in Valleyview.

I had the privilege to go for a recent run through the area after the trailhead reopened briefly before a fire broke out on Canada Day in the hills near that entrance. If one had the stamina, which I did not, one could run all the way up to Juniper Ridge or Barnhartvale. You can connect to Rose Hill or Peterson Creek. In addition to acting as an entrance to a vast playground, that trailhead connects neighbourhoods in all the ways that are healthy for both people and the planet.

Paths remain there today, but a walk through reveals scorched earth strikingly close to homes. Thankfully, no one was injured and no homes burned on July 1. For residents who hold that area dear, it will be difficult to forget the view of those hills on fire on Canada Day and they, understandably, continue to feel anxiety, with those who fled that night knowing full well it could have been much worse. Some have since described it as feeling like a life-and-death situation — and life or death often turns fight or flight.

Kamloops-South Thompson MLA Todd Stone has been among those fighting for changes, including increased access in and out of Juniper Ridge, in the wake of the fire. Others may feel inclined to pack up and move to greener hills.

Residents are becoming acutely aware of fire zones — areas of town that may be vulnerable, should a fire break out. It is, in some ways, similar to living in a flood plain, though I doubt as many considered it when purchasing their homes. Horrible thoughts have come to mind of fire sweeping through lands behind my own house, which sits in a last row of homes in the subdivision.

Chief among concerns is would we wake up if it happened at night? If we had to fell a fire, where would we go? In searching for a home in Kamloops, those very hills that now seem vulnerable are one of the things that makes the city so unique and a desirable place to live. Think of Peterson Creek, Kenna Cartwright Park and Lac du Bois.

When thinking about places to move, I think about my favourite trails, which are located in Pineview Valley, Sahali and Batchelor Heights. I think about trailheads in Juniper Ridge and Valleyview.

Going forward, there will most certainly be more fires. In addition to protecting lives and homes, the city will also need to ensure it gives residents peace of mind — educating about evacuation routes and procedures and assuring it will alert them with critical information at the time when they need it most.

It is not only about protecting Juniper and Valleyview, but every neighbourhood Narnia and, ultimately, the very thing that makes Kamloops a wonderful place to call home.

Jessica Wallace is a reporter at Kamloops This Week. Her email address is jessica@kamloopsthisweek.com. She is on Twitter @KTWjess. To comment on this column, email editor@kamloopsthisweek.com.

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