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Joseph’s Prairie Park: Keeping it green downtown

Advocating for Baker Park and the RV campground to be re-imagined as a permanent green space and festival site, and to be renamed “Joseph’s Prairie Park”
What is now Baker Park and the Mt. Baker RV campground (in purple). The entire site could be turned into a magnificent park and permanent festival and live music site. And it could be renamed to something other than “Baker.”

Over the past few weeks, I have come to the belief that the Mount Baker RV Park, a venerable and historic site in downtown Cranbrook which is being decommissioned, should be left as a green preserve to add to the number of parks Cranbrook boasts.

The town already has a number of beautiful parks, each unique and offering different perquisites to residents. But there is no such thing as too much green space, or too many parks.

Baker Park and the Mt. Baker campground combined as a new permanent park, modified to be a permanent festival or live music site, could create something entirely new and beneficial, which would enhance residents’ quality of life and boost our tourism quotient.

Baker Park proper, through which Joseph Creek runs, and which eons ago was the location of a legendary swimming pool, is already pristine. The lower part (of the soon-to-be-former campground) could serve as an appendage to Baker Park, and along with the upper area of the campground, create a permanent, beautiful green lung for downtown Cranbrook, to complement and rival the nearby Rotary, Balment and Kinsmen Parks.

Modifying the upper park — the former RV campground — into a permanent site for festivals and live music events would suit the area very well. In the past, Sam Steele Days has held its bocce pits in Baker Park — a great success as a location. Adjacent to Baker Park where campers once pitched their tents, and further east into the RV campground could provide territory for the Sam Steele Days vendors. During Sam Steele Days, First Street South could be closed off for events like the Strong Man competition or Wiener Dog Races, all enhanced by the beautiful park and flowing creek. Meanwhile, the sloping upper part of the campground could be modified into a natural bowl, or amphitheatre, which could serve as a permanent site for live music events such as FPPAS’s Summer Sounds, or Peak Music Festival.

Thus, the park becomes a place for the population to gather and celebrate life and community.

The overall area — Baker Park and Mt. Baker RV Park — should also be renamed, although here is perhaps not the best place to go into my feelings about Colonel James Baker’s name adorning so much of what is Cranbrook. But the renaming of the park would be a marvellous opportunity to celebrate another aspect of Cranbrook’s history, people, and First Nations heritage.

There is, after all, an archeological significance to the area near the intersection of what is now 2nd Street South and 14th Avenue South, and that’s not just the historic campground, or the legendary swimming pool, although those are very much part of Cranbrook’s soul.

No one knows for sure exactly where Cranbrook’s very first cemetery was located, the burial place for those who died in 1898-99, although there is common speculation that it was nearby, perhaps toward the southwest of the park, near the present-day intersection.

See more on the story of Cranbrook’s lost cemetery here

The great Henry Seelye operated the customs house out of what is now Baker Park, and other landmarks of the early days of the settlement made what was originally called Joseph’s Prairie the heart of early Cranbrook.

See more on Henry Seelye here

Miners would also follow the famous Walla Walla trail, which paralleled the creek on the way to Fisherville on the Wild Horse Creek.

And of course, Joseph Prairie was a campground and gathering place of yore for the Ktunaxa, up until the land was sold out from under them to Col. Baker.

This old park made new, a refreshing green space and and permanent festival and live music site, would honour the past, celebrate the present, and serve the future — especially by renaming it Joseph’s Prairie Park.

Green space provides mental health benefits across the population. It is conducive to better air quality, it reduces traffic noise, aids in the fight against obesity, cools temperatures, promotes diversity and commonality, reduces morbidity and mortality, your dog loves it, your kids love it, it makes us all better citizens who are more prone to loving each other and puts a nice, psychological damper on our tendency to riot. And these are just the tangible benefits of green space, which studies have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. There are also the intangible benefits, such as the zenlike calm that overtakes us when we enter one of our beautiful parks — the kind of calm that helps us look at our problems a different way, and thus solve them.

Much as Dublin, Ireland, is known for its beautiful Georgian squares and city centre parks and greens, the re-creation of a vibrant new park in downtown Cranbrook would be a boon to the well-being of its residents and a boon to its reputation.

Barry Coulter

About the Author: Barry Coulter

Barry Coulter had been Editor of the Cranbrook Townsman since 1998, and has been part of all those dynamic changes the newspaper industry has gone through over the past 20 years.
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