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Easy Hiking at Isobel Lake Forest Ecosystem
Easy Hike near Kamloops at Lac du Bois Grasslands Protected Area
This is an easy half day hike in running shoes, or on skis in winter, over mostly flat ground at Isobel Lake Interpretive Forest. From Kamloops, drive out Fortune Drive and 8th Street on the North Shore to the traffic light where the three roads join at Ord Drive, Westside Drive and 8th Street. Stay in the middle lane for Batchelor Drive, and drive uphill through Batchelor Heights to where the paved road ends and the hilly grasslands begin. Here dry range land hosts occasional sparse stands of pine trees and scrub alder where cattle graze around the margins of small lakes and intermittent marshes. At change of season in November we passed occasional ranchers pulling cattle trailers behind their trucks as they began the work of moving cattle from the summer ranges into winter shelter, in preparation for the calving season in January and February.
Easy Hike in a Forest Ecosystem
Tk'emlups: the Thompson Rivers' Confluence
In this area, the North and South Thompson Rivers trap heat in the valleys, but in the hinterland the land changes to mixed forest and lakes where the higher altitude drops temperatures and deeper soil promotes root growth for larger species of plants. Follow the gravel road past where Batchelor Drive becomes Lac Du Bois Road, and continue from the pavement end for about 17 km to the north end of McQueen Lake. Take the right fork to Isobel lake Interpretive Forest. The road is rough here, with washboard, rocks and potholes, and requires slow driving but not four-wheel drive. Approximately 7 km in, the road forks again, the right fork marked to McQueen Lake, and the left fork marked with a small arrow on a tree up the left bank to Isobel Lake. It is easy to miss the sign, but stay in the left fork for another 3 km or so to the parking lot. We parked here and took the trail, but if you come in summer and want to camp, the road continues to the provincial camp ground and to several picnic areas.
Isobel Lake: Thirty Minute Drive from Kamloops
Isobel Lake Interpretive Forest: Once a Woodlot, Now a Park
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This forest ecosystem, under licence as a woodlot to a lumber company, was logged in the 1980's, but is now a park and has reforested. The interpretive trail that rims the lake has signs along the way identifying plant species, and has picnic tables, barbecue facilities, and a wheelchair accessible trail to the Forest Inn covered picnic area about 30 minutes hike to the far side of the lake. The park is well used by youth groups on day trips from local schools, and on camping trips to the Environmental Education Centre run by the local School District 73 at nearby McQueen Lake. In early November, the area was quiet and the only person we met was the park ranger dressed in plaid bush shirt, down vest, and Wellington boots as he fed bones to his friendly dogs at the entrance to the campsite.
Part of the Isobel Lake Trail Is Wheelchair Accessible
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Watch for Migratory Birds in the Swamp Ecosystem
The lake is edged with cat tail marshes that harbour fish, ducks and water fowl. The area is located along the interior branch of the Pacific Flyway, a pathway for migrating birds, and in spring and fall you may spot species from far away as they move to nesting areas in Alaska and the Northwest territories or the Pacific north coast in spring, or fly south to wintering places in the southern US, Mexico or Central and South America. For more about how waterways, rivers and lakes are important to the survival of migratory birds, take a look here.
In several places around the lake there are good places to fish, if you like to angle. The lake is stocked in spring with trout and, and recent reconstruction of the weir from nearby Dairy Creek has improved the oxygenation of the lake in spring to reduce winterkill of fish in the lake. With cat tail swamp around the lake margin, the decaying plant material absorbs oxygen from the lake, and reduces what is available to fish. Now, with the new weir, spring runoff is diverted into Isobel Lake and flushes the lake with fresh, oxygenated water as the ice melts and the fish become active again.
Forest Regeneraton after Lumbering
Signs of the previous lumbering activities abound, with stumps in shallow water and on the hillocks beside the pathways. Now after thirty years or more, they are overgrown with mosses, lichens, sedges, and small grasses. In some cases, the roots have regrown a new trunk which will mature into a second-growth tree as the trunk decays back into the forest floor.
Along the shore, the stumps provide shade from summer heat, and shelter frogs, insects and fish.
Lightning Strikes and Wildfires Inaugurate Forest Regeneration
When lightning strikes a tree, the tree may erupt in flames and burn. Sometimes the flames spread and begin a wildfire. In Canada every year millions of hectares of forest burn this way, burning off deadwood, destroying insect infestations and triggering the opening of pine cones to regenerate new growth. When these wildfires burn close to human habitation they are tragic, destroying homes and communities, requiring whole towns to be evacuated. However, when they happen in the wilderness, they are part of a natural cleansing cycle that rejuvenates the forest.
Sometimes the lightning bolt does not cause fire, and the tree survives the strike. As shown below, the bark splits and partially chars, but the tree scars over and growth continues.
Ranching in the Thompson Niclola Region
Since local ranchers graze cattle in the area, some of the trails have cattle gates and fences to control the animals' access to the interpretive trail areas. These grids in the ground allow pedestrian and vehicular traffic, but the cattle won't cross over. If they try to cross, their hooves fall in the spaces, and sensing unstable ground, the cattle turn away. This style of cattle gate is common in the Thompson Nicola region, where the costs of fencing huge range lands may be prohibitive.
Thompson Nicola Region Cattle Gate
Binoculars Bring the Forest and Swamp to Life
Lichens and Mosses
On this easy hike at Isobel Lake, many decaying stumps and logs from logging activity are now homes to mosses and lichens as the forest regenerates. Mosses are a group of low growing plants without roots or flowers. They grow in moist, shady areas on rotten wood, trees, rocks and soil. They are photosynthesizing plants with many tiny leaves on a short stem. Not having flowers, they cannot produce seeds, but reproduce through spores, like ferns. They help produce thick layers of humus, and help the forest ecosystem by creating soil and organic material that, in time, can support the growth of larger plants.
Lichens are two plants in symbiotic relationship, consisting of a fungus and an algae. The fungus has a fibrous structure that anchors the lichen, supports the algae, and retains moisture so the algae does not dry out. The algae engages in photosynthesis to produce food from sunlight to sustain itself and the fungus.
Your binoculars will be useful to spot birds and to examine close up the features of the mosses and lichens you pass.
Mosses and Lichens
Almost at the end of the trail, there is a chair carved out of a stump. Sit here for a bit, and watch the quiet lake lap the shore, or listen to your children tell you a story about their day at Isobel Lake.
Ducks Unlimited and the Swamp Ecosystem
Soon after the Story Teller's Chair, the forest opens into meadow where grasses and mulleins grow. Here Ducks Unlimited Canada, a wetlands conservation organization, has built level dikes to shape the swamp ecosystem into hillocks that block lines of sight. This screens one pair of nesting birds from the next by creating a sense of privacy for each pair and supporting a denser nesting pattern in the area.
Easy Hike with Camping, Picnicking, Birdwatching or Fishing
This half day hike at Isobel Lake is an easy drive from Kamloops. The loop of the lake can be completed at a casual walking pace in under two hours, and passes through a variety of ecosystems. It is an excellent way to introduce children or city folks to the swamp and forest ecosystems and the ways the forest regenerates after logging.