City residents turned out in droves this week to send Alberta Parks a clear message on what to do with Lois Hole Park: protect the nature in it.
Roughly 110 people came to an open house on Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park Wednesday at the Enjoy Centre. Alberta Parks organized the event as a first step towards creating a management plan for the park.
The aim was to find out how people wanted to use the park and what they valued about it, said Terry Krause, land and resource management co-ordinator with Alberta Parks. Comments from this event will help Alberta Parks create a plan that outlines what activities and facilities will be allowed in the park.
“There are high conservation values which we need to protect,” he said, and not a lot of land available to develop.
“How do you maintain the natural values with thousands of people living around the shoreline?”
Krause said he was pleasantly surprised by the strong turnout, as some 50 people had shown up in the first hour of the event.
“This is awesome. There is very strong community interest.”
Miles Constable, who was at the event running the Big Lake Environment Support Society booth, attributed this to pent-up interest from the region’s birders and naturalists. The park has been around for many years, yet not much has happened in it besides the BLESS platform.
Post-It notes left by visitors to the open house featured a variety of suggestions for the plan. While some called for paved trails, others wanted naturalized ones. Many opposed camping and off-roading in the park, and some called for boat launches or better signage.
Resident Deb Keroack said she regularly walks the trails around Lois Hole Park, and was concerned about opening it up to more traffic. Adding a parking lot had already brought more dog-walkers to the park, some of whom were not cleaning up after their pets. She had also observed unleashed dogs chasing porcupines and moose.
“My fear is that soon those animals are not going to be there (anymore).”
Keroack said more trails would detract from the wilderness aspects of the park. Any trails that were added should be naturalised and not paved.
“We have to keep it wild in the middle of our city so that children can get out there and see the porcupine and see the moose.”
City resident Billie Milholland said that Big Lake is one of the last big important wetlands around that’s close to an urban area, and wanted to see the province expand the park’s borders under the management plan to better protect it.
“Wetlands close to urban areas have had a very, very terrible history,” said Milholland, who has written a book on the North Saskatchewan watershed. She said wetlands are often drained for development despite their importance to groundwater recharge and filtration.
“It won’t be very long, a decade, before we don’t have things like this.”
Milholland said she wanted to see low-impact activities such as skiing, canoeing and cycling in the park, and not restaurants, ATVs and horses. Alberta Parks should also co-ordinate with community groups to manage the watershed beyond the park’s borders.
St. Albert residents Jill and Scott Tansowny emphasized the park’s importance to migratory birds and said they wanted to see minimal development around it. Any trails added to it should use raised boardwalks similar to those in the John E. Poole Wetland to minimize impact. While more visitors would mean more people aware of and interested in protecting the park, they said the park’s ecosystem and wildlife should come first.
“I think we should be second to them,” Jill said.
Alberta Parks should have a draft plan by this spring and will put it out for public comment for 60 days when it does, Krause said.
Questions and comments on the plan should go to Loishole.firstname.lastname@example.org.