Having the blood of Ernest Harrop himself flowing through her veins, Jennifer Dehnel has a long-time connection with the Harrop area. Like a storybook romance, Jenn’s husband Kurt grew up on the opposite side of Kootenay Lake, leading to their eventual meeting in their early teens. Being in the area for most of their lives means that Kurt and Jenn have seen many changes throughout the years. For example, several large Great Blue Heron rookeries have disappeared and seeing a painted turtle is now a rare occurrence.They have also seen the increased misuse of 3 ephemeral wetlands along the lakeshore. One was dredged to provide boat access, while the other two are frequented by ATV users and horse riders. This heavy recreational use was a concern as it severely limited revegetation.
Kurt and Jenn understand that as more people recreate and live in the Kootenay region, conflicts are bound to arise. They did not want to restrict access to the wetlands, just encourage wise use. To meet this goal, Kurt formed the Harrop Riparian Society with members of the ATV community, equestrians, and other locals. Working with the Sunshine Bay Regional Park to commission an Ecological Assessment in 2010 was the first step to protecting the area. They also assisted in the installation of interpretive signs explaining the area’s importance to the local biology. To them, garnering a public appreciation for wetlands and convincing people that the area should be protected is a better approach than restricting all access outright.
Most wetland stewards don’t have kids or their children have long left the nest. Obviously, raising a family can be time consuming but Kurt and Jenn have circumvented that barrier by making their stewardship of the Harrop Wetlands a family affair. Their son Kieran and daughter Lucca are involved whenever possible and rarely turn down a chance to visit the area, whether it be to look for herons, learn about invasive species, or just canoe through the wetlands during the high water season.
During our short visit to the site, the young Kieran impressed us with his identification skills, keen eye, and local knowledge. In fact, he told us he wants to be a biologist when he grows up.
So far, it appears that people are taking notice of the signs, but it is still early in the season. If the Harrop Wetlands do require more protection you can bet that the Dehnels will be out there helping, and having a great time doing it too.