A new interpretive walkway could bring some 1,500 kids to a wetland near Big Lake, say naturalists, and spur development of Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park.
About 25 local residents got their first look at the proposed John E. Poole Interpretive Wetland Thursday night at an open house held at the Fraternal Order of Eagles Hall in the Riel Business Park.
The project, predicted to cost $1 million, was announced earlier in the week at the launch of the John E. Poole Conservation Fund. It proposes to build an interpretive boardwalk through the Riel wetland near the Big Lake Environment Support Society’s viewing platform.
This is a keystone project in the development of Big Lake, said Dave Kay, operations manager for project proponent Ducks Unlimited. When complete, it will let about 1,500 students a year travel through the wetland to learn about its importance to water and wildlife, and would link into the rest of Lois Hole park.
“It’ll be a great legacy for Mr. Poole,” Kay said, referring to the project’s namesake, philanthropist John Poole.
The plan depicts a boardwalk that would start near the dirt path by the BLESS platform, snake through the wetland, hook into a future parking lot and loop back to the dirt path.
Construction of some of the upland paths could start as early as this October, said Jim Wohl, a consultant on the project. “Everything is going to be replicating the natural conditions.” Native vegetation will be used where possible, with the walkway itself elevated above the wetland so as not to disturb it. Construction would happen during the winter to avoid crushing any plants.
Access to the walkway will at first be through the Red Willow Park trail to the north, Wohl said. Street access to the south will have to wait for the realignment of 137th Avenue.
This will be Ducks Unlimited’s first major education site in central Alberta, Wohl said. “It has the ability … to change the conservation ethics of a whole generation of children.”
The plans for the park also feature a large box labelled “Lois Hole Provincial Park Interpretive Centre.”
That’s where Alberta Tourism, Parks and Recreation would like to put the centre, as it has an excellent view of the lake, said Archie Landals, the parks official heading up development of the provincial park. The centre’s actual design and location would depend on the province acquiring these lands from Beaverbrook Developments.
“We want something that’s really world class,” he said, one that fits the character of the lake. “If you have a generic building, you might as well get it at Staples.”
Hope and scepticism
City parks co-ordinator Roger Belley commended the project for its education value. “I think we really have to get kids back into these outdoor classrooms.”
Local birder Peter Demulder was also interested in the project, but wondered where it would get the water for its wetland. “They might put in a beautiful boardwalk and have no water.”
Environmentalist Elke Blodgett was one of several people who asked if the trail would affect the alignment of a nearby 128-kilovolt power line. “The location of the path is the ideal location to see birds hit the line and get killed.”
The city has made a deal with Tourism, Parks and Recreation Minister Cindy Ady to take another look at moving the line as the park develops, said city manager Bill Holtby. “It’s not gone, it’s on the back burner,” he said.
City council has listed the plan to move the line as an unfunded item in its 2009-2011 capital budget.
For more information on the project, call Ducks Unlimited at 780-489-2002.