Marshy ponds and open waterways offer excellent habitat for a huge diversity of birds. Wetlands are prime stopovers for migrating birds, and the CVWMA is in the overlap between the Pacific Flyway and Central Flyway bird migration routes. An official count lists 265 bird species seen at the wildlife area. Of those, 137 species nest by the wetlands. Western painted turtles, two kinds of snakes, mammals (including beavers) and a great diversity of plants all flourish at the Creston wetlands.
The area features an interpretive centre, boardwalks, bird viewing blinds, an observation tower and 35 km of public trails. The interpretive centre has public gallery displays, trail maps, a gift shop and a large covered birdwatching deck.
Around the interpretive centre the scenic birdwatching trails are generally easy, flat, loop hikes and are well signed. They follow along the levees, beside marshes and through meadows and forests. The trails are always open for public hiking. About 10 km of trails near the interpretive centre are not open for cycling, but all the rest of the 25 km of trails in the large wildlife area offer good cycling terrain.
Staff and volunteers provide guided canoe trips throughout many of the wildlife area channels. Private canoes may also paddle in the wetlands, though not right around the interpretive centre. The public canoe areas are Six Mile Slough, Leach Lake, Duck Lake and East and West Kootenay arms (river channels). See maps at the interpretive centre.
Maintaining the wetland
Today the staff of the CVWMA manage not only the water but also the soil and plant successions to ensure the long-term survival of the wetlands and maintain water quality. They also sculpt the shorelines of the ponds, create islands and ensure protective cover of appropriate vegetation. Periodically they must drain the ponds, till the ground and then reflood it. This ensures that the plant roots have enough oxygen and controls the invasive nature of cattails. If left unmanaged, cattails would fill in the wetlands and eventually bushes would succeed over the fertile ground.
The task for the managers and staff of CVWMA is to administer the human impacts with the need to educate people on the value of the wetland and provide a sustainable wildlife environment. Government funding only partially supports the complex undertaking. Increasingly, the operations depend on private and corporate donations.
Historically, the wetlands of the Creston Valley used to sustain themselves naturally, refreshed every year by the spring flooding of the Kootenay River. As people built levees and channels to drain the fertile land for agriculture, however, the wetlands began to disappear, even though the Kootenay River still flooded annually.
In the 1940s, during spring high water, residents of West Creston used to cross the valley in a small ferry to get to the main part of Creston. The high-volume floods used to wash away the early nest sites of the waterfowl and by August the land would dry out to a baked bottomland. Something had to be done to protect both the farmland and the wildlife that depended on the wetlands.
The CVWMA was created in 1968. The Creston Valley had the first wildlife management area in BC. Another important wildlife management area in the East Kootenay is the Columbia Valley Wetlands (see entry #18).
Creston Valley is an internationally recognized wetland that has status under the Ramsar Convention, an intergovernmental treaty signed at Ramsar, Iran, in 1971 under which 158 countries (as of January 2009) work together to protect and maintain the world’s disappearing wetlands. The CVWMA staff now has the opportunity to share their extensive knowledge and experience worldwide.