The future of Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park got a lot bigger this week after the province added a town's worth of land to its borders.
Alberta Tourism, Parks, and Recreation Minister Cindy Ady came to the Big Lake Environment Support Society's viewing platform Wednesday morning to announce the addition of 378 hectares of land to Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park — an area about half the size of Gibbons.
It's the biggest addition of land to the park since it was established in 2005, and expands it to a whopping 1,800 hectares — about half the size of St. Albert. "The park is now about the same size of Morinville and Gibbons combined," Ady said.
Lois Hole park is an amazing legacy piece for Alberta, Ady said, one that preserves a major bird sanctuary and pays tribute to a beloved lieutenant-governor. "People are going to stand here some day and say, 'Thank goodness somebody had the vision to do this.'"
Among those lands is the 53-hectare John E. Poole Interpretive Wetland, named after construction magnate John Poole. Announced last year by Ducks Unlimited, the project will put an educational walkway through the marsh near the BLESS platform to teach thousands of local students about bird life.
John's son, Peter Poole, spoke about his father's love of nature, and how he said he could "see forever" in Alberta's protected parks regions. "Thanks to all of you in the conservation community, this will be here forever."
Years in the making
This week's announcement has been about four years in the making, said Archie Landals, the director with the provincial parks department's land management branch who oversees Lois Hole park. Some of the land was bought through Alberta Transportation; other plots were part of a land swap with Canadian Pacific Railway.
About 40 hectares, including most of the John Poole wetland, came from Beaverbrook Developments.
This is the best way to use the land, said company president George Cantalini. "It's a great legacy," he said, and a way for the company to give back to the community. "This way, everyone gets a little piece of this kind of paradise."
Ducks Unlimited has been working on the interpretive wetland since about 2004, said Dave Kay, St. Albert resident and manager for the wetland project. Now that they have the land, they plan to start construction within weeks so they can open it next year.
It should be an excellent venue for students learning about wetlands, Kay said, one that's sorely needed in the Edmonton area. "All Grade 5 classes from the greater Edmonton area will be served by that wetland."
Jim Hole of Hole's Greenhouses & Gardens said he was glad people would now get to learn more about the importance of the park. "You've got this massive urban wetland that's just teeming with life."
According to draft plans presented last year, the walkway is right next to one of the potential spots for the park's future interpretive centre.
Now that they have the land, Landals said, the province can start planning the centre in earnest.
"If you want to design something that fits the landscape ... you have to know the land you're dealing with." Plans are sketchy right now, but the centre would likely include displays and classrooms, and could work with staff at the neighbouring Enjoy Centre.
This walkway will open up much of the normally inaccessible park to visitors, Landals said, which he hoped would drum up interest for future development.
"For the first time it means we'll be offering some programs and opportunities specific to the park," he said. "I see it as a major step forward."