Osoyoos centre upgrade biggest priority for Desert Society

Lauren Meade, executive director of the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of BC, and Pluto, the society's burrowing owl ambassador, present at a Desert Society event Saturday at the Watermark Beach Resort. The Movie and an Expert lecture series is just one of the programs undertaken by the Society.

The Osoyoos Desert Centre wants a new home.

Denise Eastlick, executive director of the Osoyoos Desert Society, told Osoyoos Council this morning that over the next five years the major priority for the Desert Centre is the construction of a new interpretive building

“The Desert Centre is a big focus of what we do,” she said in an annual report. “Over the last decade, we’ve typically drawn about 10,000 people a year; over a decade that means 100,000 visitors.

“We had near-record attendance in 2016 and last year was a real banner for our night tours — we virtually doubled our night tours, the demand for them was so great.”

The society has made extensive improvements to the Desert Centre’s 67-acres of endangered habitat located north of Osoyoos, adding a 1.5-km boardwalk, three viewing decks, an expanded entry plaza and gardens.

It has become an interpretive facility where “visitors can learn about desert ecology, habitat restoration and conservation of endangered ecosystems in the South Okanagan.”

But, Ms. Eastlick added, a new building is essential for the Centre’s continued operation, with educational programs currently limited by the condition and size of the existing structure, and critical to ensure habitat restoration at the centre continues.

 

“The land is coming back,” she told Council, pointing to a resurvey of the site in 2009 — a decade after the society acquired the property. “That resurvey showed we’re really making progress.”

A core of volunteers have kept the facility operational, maintaining and upgrading the building, she told Council.

“The volunteers have done an absolutely amazing job and have done about as much as can be done with the existing building.”

The society enjoys a funding partnership with the Town of Osoyoos, receiving $15,000 each year in core funding, and an additional $2,000 from the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen.

It also receives on-going support from BC Gaming and multi-year or project support from FortisBC, Suncor Energy, the South Okanagan Community Foundation and the South Okanagan Real Estate Foundation.

But to meet the much steeper capital and operation costs of a new building, other funding will be required.

“We’ve been in discussion with provincial and federal government,” said Ms. Eastlick. “We’ve been in discussion with several foundations and we are doing a lot of research to fund other funding resources.”

The Centre, located off Highway 97, is open annually from April through October. The society plays host to several community events — including Art in the Moonlight — and hosts a winter series of environmental lectures.

It also provides outreach presentations to libraries, schools and community organizations and participates in research programming.

For more information about the centre and its governing society, visit desert.org.

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