Fairy Creek Falls

I just returned from a mountain bike adventure to the desert of southeastern Utah. Few plants and animals can survive the harsh conditions of blazing heat, poor soils and scarce water. Driving north toward Canada, as more freshwater was available, life exploded from scrubland to magnificent coniferous forests. The expansive indigo blue sky and red rock of the desert landscape is a nice place to visit but I prefer the lush forests around Fernie.

Driving into the valley, it was so green with the Elk River at peak spring freshet, with the snow retreating to the highest peaks. Over the next few months, the Elk River Alliance (ERA), our community-based watershed group wants to encourage folks to get out and explore its sources, the ecosystems adjacent to creeks and rivers, as well as the plants and animals that thrive there.

To celebrate the theme of diversity, take a hike up to Fairy Creek Falls. This 4 km, 1.5-2 hour round trip, is an easy hike and ends with a spectacular waterfall. It is suitable for families with children, but dogs are not allowed due to cows with calves grazing in the first part of the trail. Start this hike at the Fernie Visitor Information Centre on Highway 3.

Fairy Creek is significant to Fernie; it is our domestic water supply, so the water for brushing your teeth and coffee this morning likely came from this creek. The upper headwaters are protected from development and human activity. Snow melt from Mount Fernie, the Three Sisters and Mount Proctor permeates limestone charging an underground aquifer ensuring abundant, clean, clear mountain water for our community. 

While hiking to the falls, notice the healthy forest ecosystem helping to store water. Rich forest soils act as sponges and cycle nutrients that grow many different plants. I have identified a great variety of trees on the south flank of Mount Proctor – Western white pine, larch and cedar, Interior Douglas fir and Englemann spruce to name a few. During June the forest floor is covered with wildflowers, including clematis, heart leaved arnica, and Oregon grape.

When you arrive at the falls notice the bobbing bird flying up and down the stream. This steely grey, aquatic songbird is an American dipper. It feeds underwater on aquatic bugs attached to rocks. Flip over a few rocks in the streambed to see mayfly, caddisfly and stonefly larvae, biological indicators of high water quality. 

Standing at the bottom of Fairy Creek Falls I appreciate more that it is water that is essential for all life and a prerequisite for my health and well-being.