Become enlightened about Darkwoods

Alpine Lake on Darkwoods, BC (Photo by Bruce Kirkby)

Alpine Lake on Darkwoods, BC (Photo by Bruce Kirkby)

October 15, 2019 | by Carla Reed

I want to tell you a little bit about Darkwoods, one of my favourite places in BC. It is a Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) conservation area near Nelson, and it stretches from the shores of Kootenay Lake almost to the U.S. border. It covers 63,000 hectares (155,000 acres) and is the largest privately protected area in Canada.

The name Darkwoods itself is evocative — although it is not all dark forest, by any means. It also includes lakefront and sub-alpine areas, providing habitat for a huge range of species. But the name is important as part of its history.

The land was bought in the 1960s by the German Duke of Wuerttemberg, who lived in Germany but wanted to have property in Canada in case the Cold War heated up. One of the most famous forests in the world, the Schwarzwald in Germany, gave him the idea for the name — and the connection — between the Old World and the New World. (For those of you who don't read German, Schwarzwald is a direct translation).

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Darkwoods mountains, BC (Photo by Bruce Kirkby)

Darkwoods mountains, BC (Photo by Bruce Kirkby)

From its creek bottoms to its sub-alpine peaks, Darkwoods shelters a diverse range of wildlife, with grizzly bears probably being the most famous. Grizzlies can now roam all the way from provincial parks in central BC through Darkwoods and out at the southern end into protected state parks in the U.S. They’re international travellers who don’t need visas! Smaller mammals, such as American badger and wolverine, are also there but harder to find.

A visit to Darkwoods requires a permit from NCC. The roads are rough and rutted, generally only suitable for trucks with four-wheel drive. From September to May, the roads are not accessible, as they are covered in snow, and the gates to Darkwoods are closed. In summer, there is recreational access on weekends to trails and some old logging roads, but most of them have been allowed to “go back to nature” (i.e., they’ve been returned to their original slopes on hillsides and allowed to “re-wild” over time). On those remaining roads, you may encounter grizzlies. A trek up Mt. McGregor, one of the mountains on Darkwoods, is strenuous, but it provides a breathtaking 360-degree view of all of Darkwoods and part of the U.S.

The outhouse I was temporarily trapped in (Photo by Carla Reed)

The outhouse I was temporarily trapped in (Photo by Carla Reed)

My latest stay this summer at the Kootenay lakeside in Darkwoods was, as always, inspiring and wonderful. However, in the interest of full disclosure, I admit that I also had a very challenging half-hour at our campsite. A grizzly encounter? News that a forest fire had started and was cutting off our exit on the only road? Well, no.

I was using the very rustic outhouse while there was a fierce wind raging through the tree tops around me. This same wind managed to somehow blow shut the wooden bolt on the outside of the outhouse, securely imprisoning me on the inside. I spent the next half-hour singing that old favourite, “Three Old Ladies Got Locked in the Lavatory, Nobody Knew They Were There,” only it was just one old lady, so I didn't even have anyone to sing with!

Eventually, I was rescued, and NCC fixed the latch so that it doesn't happen again.

Well, there's the story of Darkwoods, from the sublime to the ridiculous.

This story originally appeared in the Panorama Messenger, the quarterly newsletter of the senior centre where Carla Reed lives.

Carla Reed (Photo by Jill Constable)

About the Author

Carla Reed is a long-time admirer and supporter of Nature Conservancy Canada.

Read more about Carla Reed.

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