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A golden year for larch in the park

Kimberley has larch, plenty of it. Ask any firewood collector or avid fall-colour photographer what their favourite subject is, and the answer will invariably be larch.

The majority of larch around Kimberley is western larch (Larix occidentalis) but we also enjoy extensive stands of subalpine larch (Larix Lyallii). Both species share a common trait of brilliant golden deciduous needles in the fall. Many people commonly refer to either species as tamarack, but the tamarack only occur in the northeastern regions of the province and extend across the boreal forest. The cover of these species often overlap from valley bottom to mountain top, making for completely golden landscapes; the subalpine form turning colour first, with the western turning several weeks later.

Looking up the St. Mary Valley from the Bear Trail viewpoint in Horse Barn Valley.

While the annual Larchfest event my wife, Krista, and I started in 2013 has not grown into the nature festival we originally envisioned, it has grown into a popular photo event that gets people out enjoying the nature park and other areas around Kimberley each year. We now receive more than 150 photos each fall, and we are continually hounded for new categories, which must get approval from my wife. Some categories have come and gone, while others are firm staples such as general larch, alpine larch, and tasteful nude. For the latter category, individuals are motivated by the potential reward of a dozen free-range eggs, and photos have evolved from very conservative to very creative – yet tasteful.

Most photos submitted to our event are taken in the trails directly surrounding Kimberley, mainly within the Kimberley Nature Park and Lois Creek Trails. The larch in these lower elevation trail networks are the western larch which tend to keep their needles longer, providing ample opportunity to get out and enjoy the fall colours. In the nature park the annual larch hike to the Dipper Lake area is especially popular, as larch are particularly common in this region.

View from Romantic Ridge in the nature park.

We are quite lucky to live in an area where two larch species overlap. In other regions of B.C. and Alberta the fall larch colours draw a great many visitors. For example, the trails up Mount Frosty in Manning Park are busiest during larch season, and in 2017 Parks Canada required visitors use shuttle services from Lake Louise to Moraine Lake, which resulted in two-hour lineups to see the glorious larch splendor we can all enjoy just outside our back doors.

Randy Moody and his wife, Krista, started the annual Kimberley Larch Festival after he toured the area in 2012 with Steve Arno from Montana. Arno completed his PhD on subalpine larch in 1970, and while surveying our area from a fixed-wing aircraft determined that the most extensive stands of subalpine larch occur just northwest of Kimberley between Mark Creek and the Skookumchuck River. This year’s Larchfest photo submissions can be seen on Facebook at: Kimberley Larch Festival.

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