Tourists numbers looking strong for summer in South Okanagan hotels

 

TOURISTS BITING AGAIN

GM of the Penticton Lakeside Resort & Convention Centre, Elizabeth Cucnik, said that bookings are looking healthy at this point.

“We really feel the injection of enthusiasm in the public, throughout the province, throughout Canada, we are seeing some travellers from the United States again, opening up. There’s quite a bit of optimism around tourism at the moment as a tourism operator.”

The reservations are getting close to being back at pre-pandemic levels.

“It feels like it’s the same kind of environment as pre-covid, In terms of our occupancy levels. However, I do continuously stress that it is with caution, because, we really do need this injection of tourism to help recover and it will take a long time,” Cucnik said.

“It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s not going to happen with one summer of high occupancy, it’s going to take some time.”

The Naramata Inn shares a similar story in seeing their bookings rise this year.

“We opened in a pandemic. So things are a little unusual as a starting point, but we’re really happy to see that this year is going to be our strongest year yet. And we are trying to get to a place called ‘normal,’” Partner Kate Colley said, adding that they’re up over our goals for every month ahead except for August.

“I think people are really hopeful that this is going to be the year and the summer that everything kind of improves for the better. And we’re feeling that way too.”

Confidence has grown in visitation to Naramata so well that the Inn has expanded their dining offerings, opening a specialty wine bar, called Eliza, in their lower level.

As some of the area’s biggest festivals and celebrations return, the high attendance expectation can be seen in the rooms already being booked out.

“August long weekend is a huge weekend for us and most tourism operators throughout the South Okanagan. That is sort of our creme de la creme, the big weekend. But we have quite a few events that have returned this year, Peach City Beach Cruise is coming back, and the Elvis Festival too,” Cucnik said.

“We definitely have full occupancy around the Ironman and the GranFondo which is really exciting to know that people are considering Naramata even though they’re attending events in Penticton,” Colley added.

Both hospitality businesses continue to look for staff to hire on, as the worker shortage continues to impact the Okanagan.

“Staffing levels are always a challenge. I know for everybody, we’re not unique to that problem,” Cucnik said. The resort continues to attend job fairs and runs a program for Ukrainian refugees, with an offer to accommodate people that are coming over from Ukraine that can help work at the resort.

There is still some trepidation remaining for some visitors in their bookings.

“I’m certain people have various reservations about traveling in general after the last two years that we’ve had that included, of course, the pandemic, but also wildfires and a heat dome, like we’ve not seen here before,” Colley said.

“So I think people can’t help but have those kinds of thoughts in their mind when they’re making bookings. But we’re happy to see that people really are making the bookings and I’m sure this is going to be our best summer yet.”

South Okanagan wedding destinations picking up again, so brides and grooms urged to book now

 

Tie the knot Okanagan-style

There’s no shortage of beautiful vistas and unique venues in and around Penticton to host a special celebration, and if a wedding or vow renewal is on your agenda – especially after two years of pandemic delays – explore your options before calendars are filled.

Some sought-after spots are close to full for 2022, while others are already taking reservations for 2023.

In the aptly named-village of Kaleden (loosely translated, it means ‘beautiful garden’), you’ll find Linden Gardens. Nine acres of gardens and greens create a perfect outdoor space for weddings, from ceremony to reception.

“We have a full schedule this year for weddings,” says Ken Hayter, co-owner of Linden Gardens with his wife, Margaret.

“We can provide the whole package, everything but the catering,” he adds. A full-service wedding planner, Dream Big Weddings and Events, looks after bookings and coordination.

And by the whole package, he means everything from on-site accessories and classic furniture for your photos, right down to the cutlery and dishes for your reception. Download a brochure for the details.

There are several areas within the Gardens to consider for your celebration, including some indoor spaces, and Ken has added a tidewater tent for outdoor weddings and parties; this is a “fancy” high peak sailcloth tent. Think weddings from Hallmark movies.

If a winery destination is your heart’s desire, a number (but not all) wineries in the region offer wedding services. A few to check out: Poplar Grove or Bench 1775 on the Naramata Bench; Liquidity Winery in Okanagan Falls; and Oak Estate Winery in Summerland.

If you recall visiting the S.S. Sicamous Museum and Heritage Park on childhood family visits to Penticton, this might be a great venue to bring a few generations together on your special day.

Tammi Foster of I DO Weddings and Events takes care of wedding planning for this historic sternwheeler, and tells the tale a groom remembering visits with this grandfather as a kid. There is a photo of them in the ship’s railway display.

“It was an awesome moment,” she says, “The Sicamous is full of history and is a wonderful place for all of the generations in your family to get together and celebrate. There are many options inside and on the ground outside, and it’s such a stunning, iconic backdrop.”

All of the details can be found online.

For intimate and creative nuptials, the stunning Similkameen Wild Re-Treat Winery and Resorthas a “laid back attitude, but with all of the touches you might like for a hands-on experience,” describes manager Tristan Boisvert.

“We are literally on a road to nowhere (a dead end), and the most common comment we get when someone arrives is, ‘I had no idea this was here!’”.

Similkameen Wild is 18 acres of meadow and riverfront, indoor and outdoor kitchen spaces, a winery and “wine shed” on site, and is atypical in that there are no set packages.

“Bring your creative ideas,” says Tristan. “We’re boho -hic, and there’s no one else quite like us.”

Consider the option of a micro-wedding in the Similkameen, and request a brochure.

Whatever the vision is for your big day, book your wedding experience soon as Okanagan dates begin to fill up again.

Invasive plant growing throughout the South Okanagan and Similkameen has a pointy seed pod that sticks into skin and pops tires

 

Pointy plant punctures skin

Casey Richardson

Watch out for puncture vine, the invasive plant with a spiked seed pod in the South Okanagan and Similkameen Valley that will poke into a person’s foot, a dog’s paws, or even pop your tires.

The Okanagan and Similkameen Invasive Species Society (OASISS) has seen more reports this year about the summer annual plant that was introduced to the area from the Mediterranean and thrives on really hot summer days.

“Puncture vine is aptly named because of the seed pods, there’s five segments to the seed pods and each of those segments has two spines, and their top is like a tack,” ??said Lisa Scott, executive director for OASISS.

“They’ll actually even poke into bicycle tires and pop the tube so that’s a real problem for our residents or tourists who are just trying to go out and enjoy biking on our trails.”

The plant can be identified by one main short root, and the stems that spread flat on the ground, growing in all different directions up to 10 feet long.

“And when the sun is shining, you will look for small yellow flowers. And these flowers then turn into the seed pods which have the sharp spines and the seeds are actually quite tiny, little bit like poppy seeds and they’re housed within that spiny seed pod.”

A toxin also sits within the seed and will leave the spot sore if pricked.

“The main risk with puncture vine is that it is painful if stepped on. Or if you’re trying to control it definitely use gloves because it will puncture your skin. It’s also a problem for grazing animals. So if a puncture vine moves into your pasture or your hay field or in a location where you have grazing animals, you will want to control it because it can get into their mouths and cause painful ulcers,” Scott said.

If removing puncture vine or your property OASISS recommends gloves to avoid the prickly pods.

Dig out the area, removing as much of the root system as possible and dispose of it at a landfill, not in compost bins, to prevent further spread.

This year has seen an increase in puncture vine sightings, crawling across vineyards, dog parks, beaches and open areas.

“Puncture vine is actually not a one of our strong competitive invasive plants, it’s actually a really weak vine, and it takes advantage of locations where really nothing else wants to grow. So vacant lots that are very sandy or gravelly, are roadsides, it really loves moving into areas like gravel pits.”

One of Penticton’s off-leash dog parks, located off Industrial Avenue, had puncture vine growing throughout the area.

“It’s really concerning to see puncture vine growing in a location such as a dog park, because of course the dogs are unaware they’re going to step on it and the seed pods can get lodged into their paws and be quite painful. So just like any other time we see a puncture vine, we had a report of this sighting and we will be working with the city of Penticton to remove it and make it a safe place for people and dogs.”

If you spot a puncture vine in a public place, such as a park, beach or parking lot, make sure to report it to your local government body.

South Okanagan bird rescue inviting public to witness two baby great horned owls return to wild

 

2 baby owls to be released

The South Okanagan’s only bird-of-prey rescue centre is finally able to welcome the public again to a release of two rehabilitated baby owls, after 16 months of restrictions due to the pandemic.

SORCO says the public is welcome on July 10 at Stag’s Hollow Winery in Oliver July 10 at 2 p.m. to watch the babies fly to freedom.

SORCO manger Dale Belvedere said the pair are about three months old and are 100 per cent ready to go, after being found in a destroyed nest in Penticton and receiving care at their facilities ever since.

“They’re flying extremely well, they’re in the exterior flight pens, they know how to hunt,” Belvedere said.

The non-profit organization provides rehabilitation services for all birds of prey in the region, and the pandemic has been hard, due to having to cancel their annual open house two years in a row. That event is typically the source of most of their donations.

Belvedere is happy that, with restrictions lifting, the public will once again be able to experience the work SORCO does.

“It’s Stag Hollow’s 25th anniversary, and they are big supporters of us. We released a couple owls there a few years ago too,” Belvedere said.

The release event is free to attend, but SORCO volunteers will also be on hand should anyone wish to inquire about how to further support their work.

Find out more about SORCO and donate here.

Learn about the spring wines of the South Okanagan through a virtual tasting inspired by sunny forecasts

 

Virtual spring wine tasting

With recent provincial health recommendations asking residents to stay close to home and restrict non-essential travel, many in the Okanagan and beyond might be missing the opportunity to sip and savour the sunshine at South Okanagan wineries.

But Oliver Osoyoos Wine Country is working hard to bring that experience into homes from afar, through its podcast series and ongoing virtual tastings.

This Tuesday April 27 at 7 p.m., join the second of their seven-episode live virtual tasting series with Moss Scheurkogel of the Vinstitute, focusing on the perfect wine for spring and summer: Rosé.

Scheurkogel will explain methods that local winemakers use to produce the beloved beverage, and feature rosés from Bartier Bros. and Culmina Family Estate Winery. He will also delve into some other similar styles, like the sparkling Zinfandel from Covert Farms Family Estate Winery.

Follow along for free on Facebook Live here April 27 at 7 p.m. To taste along with Scheurkogel, source the featured wines listed here locally or order direct from the wineries — and check out his list of suggested food pairings to make your at-home tasting experience complete.

Tips for South Okanagan residents to prep their gardens for spring planting

Get your garden spring-set

“It’s perfect weather for getting outside and getting into the garden.”

Gardeners in the South Okanagan are itching to start planting, and with the warm weather projected to continue throughout the next week, Pentictonites are looking for a reason to get their hands in the dirt.

Plant specialist Scott Austin with GardenWorks, said the increased interest in developing a green thumb has been evident in the community for the past year, and while people want to get going, now is the time to focus on preparation.

“This year people are really, really anxious to get out and get outside and start doing things in the garden,” Austin said.

“Anything that you can do now to get that cleanup done and get everything ready, you can get your plants in and get it all done and then July and August, you’re sitting in your back garden with a nice glass of Gewurztraminer and enjoying it.”

It’s a little early to begin direct seeding, but Austin said soon the cool season crops could be placed in the ground as long as the soil is dry enough.

“Take a fistful and squeeze it together, if it falls apart when you poke it with your finger, you should be good to go.”

Working on your lawn can go ahead as long as it isn’t still a bit squishy underneath, otherwise wait for it to dry out and then begin raking.

It’s also a good time for pruning to get the garden ready, as long as it’s not spring blooms.

“Something that blooms in the spring is blooming on last years wood…but pruning, certainly clean up. I see a lot of people cleaning up their ornamental grasses and their flower beds which is fine if your soil is dry enough.”

The main suggestion he has is to plan and get what you want in your garden early.

“Demand for our product is very, very strong, and suppliers are having trouble keeping up,” Austin said. “Don’t say I’ll come down in May and pick them up, they may not be there. We hope that they are but they may not be just with the way the past year has gone.”

If you really want to plant something immediately, Austin suggests planting some flower bulbs that do alright with a bit of frost, like daffodils and pansies, that will give your garden some early colour to enjoy.

And for those first-time gardeners, here are some tips to cultivate your green thumb.

“Just focus on the things that you like to grow,” he said. “Most of the garden vegetables, I’d say 90 per cent of them are really really easy, even for first-timers. If it doesn’t work out the first time, gardeners are nothing but stubborn, just keep trying until we get it right.”

Whether it’s fresh veggies or a collection of flowers you’re after, the key planting time with be coming in the next three to five weeks to get the garden going.

BC government provides funding for South Okanagan “situation table” to focus on crime prevention and vulnerable individuals

Plan to prevent crime

A new community-based team of front-line workers will be set up in Oliver to serve the South Okanagan, thanks to a $30,000 provincial grant announced Friday.

“We want to see all people, particularly those who are vulnerable and high risk, receive the right support and services they need, when they need them,” said Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General.

“By investing in creating these teams in communities throughout the province, we’re helping front-line workers rapidly connect with people in crisis, while freeing up police to focus on serious and organized criminal activity.”

The teams will be known as “situation tables,” and will include representatives from health, public safety and social service agencies.

The goal is to proactively identify vulnerable individuals who have a high probability of engaging in criminal activity, or being victimized, and connect them with services that can help.

Funding is provided by the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General’s Office of Crime Reduction and Gang Outreach. There are currently 10 situation tables operating in B.C., with work underway on 11 more.

Mayor Martin Johansen of Oliver is thrilled.

“Often the root of crime problems is found in addiction and mental health issues,” he said.

“The towns of Oliver and Osoyoos, rural areas A and C, and Osoyoos Indian Band will benefit immensely through the establishment of the South Okanagan situation table. On behalf of all local governments, I extend a sincere thank you to the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General in providing supportive funding to launch this important program.”

Sheila Malcolmson, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, explained how the situation tables have been shown to help.

“To better connect vulnerable people with the services that can prevent crisis, crime and disorder, situation tables problem solve one case at a time, so at-risk individuals get the help they need. In 2019, 54% of situation table cases were transferred from police to social services, so police could focus on criminals instead.”

South Okanagan named top place in Canada to visit post-pandemic by Vacay.ca

Post-COVID travel top pick

The South Okanagan is the place to be post-pandemic, according to Canadian online travel magazine Vacay.ca.

The site has launched a list of the 20 best destinations to travel to in Canada in 2021, once restrictions lift, and the South Okanagan nabbed the number one spot.

They note that unrestricted travel will likely begin just as the fall harvest season kicks off, and note the South Okanagan as a perfect spot to enjoy the end of summer and early autumn.

“This year, given what the world is going through, the South Okanagan was a clear choice for the number one spot in our rankings because of all of the outdoor activities it offers and the sense of safety you feel once you’re there,” Vacay.ca co-founder Adrian Brijbassi said.

Vacay points to the likelihood that road trips and nature escapes to smaller destinations will still be popular this summer as vaccines roll out but social distancing is still in place, making communities like Naramata, Oliver, Summerland, Okanagan Falls and Kaleden particularly enticing.

“We are thrilled to receive this recognition,” said Brad Morgan, marketing director of Travel Penticton and managing partner of Visit South Okanagan.

“The diversity of experiences and the connectivity of the partner communities is what attracts visitors to the South Okanagan. We have something for everyone and the scenic route that connects us makes for a day-tripper’s paradise. We look forward to welcoming visitors when the time is right.”

Vacay notes the more than 70 wineries that operate in the 100-kilometre stretch between Penticton and Osoyoos as a particular selling point.

The ranking consists of data from a survey of travel journalists country-wide.

Kelowna also made the list, coming in at the 19th spot. B.C. destinations earned five spots, more than any other province.

The full ranking is as follows:

1. South Okanagan, BC
2. Cape Breton Island, NS
3. Banff National Park & Lake Louise, AB
4. Dawson City, YT
5. Victoria & Cowichan Valley, BC
6. Prince Edward County, ON
7. Gaspereau & Annapolis Valleys, NS
8. Quebec City-to-Tadoussac, QC
9. St. John’s & Irish Loop, NL
10. Charlottetown, PEI
11. Golden & Revelstoke, BC
12. Niagara Region, ON
13. Georgian Bay, ON
14. Gaspesie, QC
15. South Shore, NS
16. Shediac-to-Saint John, NB
17. Tofino & Pacific Rim National Park, BC
18. Saskatoon & Prince Albert National Park, SK
19. Kelowna, BC
20. Pukaskwa National Park, ON