Clapperton Falls - 110302
NOTE: IF GATE IS CLOSED, PLEASE USE SECONDARY COORDINATES: N 50 13.446 W 120 38.460.
Flowing in the canyon below the Coquihalla Highway north of Merritt is Clapperton Creek. It is a major tributary to the Nicola River, draining a large portion of the area on both sides of the highway from just north of Merritt to the Surrey Lake Summit. Snowmelt does influence the rate of discharge in this creek, but it flows year round. There are dams at the outflow of both Sussex Lake and Helmer Lake along Clapperton Creek that are used to regulate flow to provide irrigation water in the summer.
In addition to being important for agriculture, Clapperton Creek also provides a source of water for wildlife, as well as a band of riparian habitat along the stream shore where a variety of wildlife, birds and insects are able to take advantage of the more succulent vegetation and dense shrubs found closer to the water.
There are of course species which make the creek itself home, including several types of fish. Rainbow trout, coho salmon, chinook salmon and steelhead are all species present in Clapperton Creek, though there are several barriers to fish passage that prevent the latter three species from journeying very far up the 29 km creek. This means that though there are rainbow trout present along the length of Clapperton Creek, the other three species can only be found downstream of the first barrier to fish passage, since they are anadromous. They migrate to the ocean but must return to their natal stream to spawn, and cannot swim upstream of the barriers. According to the B.C. Ministry of Environment's internet mapping program, "Habitat Wizard", there are two natural barriers to fish passage on Clapperton Creek in addition to the two lake outflow dams. One is a set of falls 2 km upstream from the confluence with Nicola River, and another is found 5 km further upstream.
This second set of falls is known as Clapperton Falls, and is a hidden treasure that is relatively easy to access from the Coquihalla Highway's northbound lane. There is not an actual highway exit to reach the falls access road. The gravel pit is a good spot to park and begin to explore. The sound of the falls is enticing, and the overhanging perch from which the falls are best viewed is worth the effort to find. There are not established trails to find the falls, nor are there any guardrails to prevent a fall, so walking with caution and keeping pets and children close by is definitely recommended.
One type of plant found near the viewpoint of Clapperton Falls is Fairyslipper (Calypso bulbosa). According to the “Plants of the Southern Interior of B.C.” book, this beautiful purple-flowered orchid is decreasing in numbers due to its sensitivity to trampling and picking. Fairyslipper is also considered a medicinal plant of importance to several Aboriginal groups, including the First Nations people of the Nicola Valley. Enjoy the beauty of both the falls and the flowers, and try to leave the spot as it was when you arrived.