Summer 2021 Visit to Welch Creek Natural Area

  • Date of visit: Thursday, July 22, 2021
  • People: Patsy, Manna, Hubert
  • Duration: about 3 hrs (11:30 am – 2:30 pm)
  • Weather: overcast, ominous clouds to the west
  • Last hour: rainstorm, misty atmosphere

The only road access is at the SW corner of the NA reached by use of
Township Rd 514A and Range Road 52. From there an oilfield road runs to the centre of the western boundary of the NA (for details see the Google map).
Site receives few visitors; no trails; no disturbance other than the centre west oilfield installation.
Tony Blake of Red Deer is the Government-appointed Roving Steward for this and many other Natural Areas in Central Alberta.

Our Visit to Welch Creek Natural Area

Getting There…

July 22 this year, a day of unsettled summer weather, found three of us, in two separate vehicles, heading through green, pleasantly wooded foothills towards Welch Creek Natural Area, some 25 km west of Rimbey. None of us were familiar with the site. However, our curiosity had been piqued following an enquiry by a relative of one Corporal W.E. Welch, a World War II casualty, after whom (or his landowning family) the creek has been named.
After careful consultation of Google Maps and a couple of hours’ drive from Edmonton we were close to our destination; descending a hill to the low-lying creek lands we reached the end of a gravel road alongside a couple of acreage properties; about 100 m of muddy track were still ahead. We proceeded and parked in a clearing containing two oil installations.

Treed Fen

We’d done our research: Welch Creek Natural Area is a provincial protected area of approximately 65 hectares consisting mostly of forested fen and open sedge fen, the latter surrounding a narrow creek that squiggles across the area close to its eastern boundary.
After a little exploration of the wet, disturbed, sedgy area around the installations, and not finding any obvious trails, the three of us boldly breached the wall of fen forest rising to the east. Walking was, however, easy as the trees (much more tamarack than black spruce) are relatively widely spaced; the ground cover is a soft blanket of peatland mosses and low shrubs in the heather family, Labrador tea and cranberries. Much of the fen flora was familiar to us because of our knowledge of the rich fens of Wagner Natural Area just west of Edmonton. However, we remarked some differences: purple marsh cinquefoil, for instance, was present, and buckbean (past flowering) was common (it is confined to one small population in Wagner). We even came across an alpine bistort plant and a couple of specimens of mountain death camas, both very much more common in mountain tundra. Absent any obvious springs spewing calcareous groundwater and creating marl ponds, I would say that the treed fen of Welch Creek was somewhere between a rich fen and an intermediate one; its flora probably most resembles that of Crimson Lake Provincial Park.

Open Sedge Fen

Eastwards the fen forest gives way to an open expanse of sedge fen, sparsely dotted with diminutive conifers and bog birch. Here surface water meant that finding safe footing required a good deal more concentration. The creek itself was invisible in the distance and we had to trek north, making for a line of willows on slightly higher ground, to reach it. I was reminded of Kilini Creek Natural Area, northwest of Edmonton, were a similar expanse of wetland, too wet for tree growth, makes creek access difficult. We heard and watched a flock of sandhill cranes flying overhead, compounding our impression of open space and wilderness.

Returning…

Lowering skies eventually erupted into outright thunderstorm and we were relieved to reach the cutline marking the west end of the property and head south on a faster route back through the forest. Despite the rain we took the time to smell the tall, perfumed, white orchids whimsically named bog candles and examine hooded ladies’-tresses and two species of northern bog orchid.Getting Out…
Our adventure was not over. Leaving the Natural Area proved more difficult than getting there. The muddy track had now become a quagmire, and it took the efforts of three of us to get my non-four-wheel drive car back to the gravel road, its wheels packed solid with gumbo and vegetation. To cut a long story short, we learnt a valuable lesson about the hazards of mud, even if a car doesn’t actually get stuck. It took a visit to my local garage the next day to have the wheels properly hosed down and rebalanced before the car regained its normal stability on the road.

The Future…

We plan another visit to Welch Creek, hopefully under better weather conditions, and perhaps in the company of its Roving Steward, Tony Blake of Red Deer, to explore it further. We should check out the southern part of the area, which includes mixedwood and deciduous forest on more upland terrain. With such varied forest habitat, Welch Creek NA promises to yield an extensive species list, of birds as well as plants. An adventure for another day!

  • Round-leaved sundew leaves protrude from their bed of Sphagnum moss
  • Tall white bog orchid, or bog candles, in very wet treed fen along with buckbean and sedges.
  • Diverse forest floor in treed fen, with three-leaved false Solomon's seal, bog cranberry, bishop's-cap, arctic raspberry, sedges and mosses (M. Parseyan)
  • Flowers of marsh cinquefoil (Comarum palustre, family Rosaceae) in treed swamp (H. Taube)
  • Diverse array of lichens (mainly Cladonia species) on tamarack stump.
  • View showing sedge fen in foreground, forested fen and upland forest in the middle ground, low forested hills in the background
  • Muddy road into the Welch Creek Natural Area, the road passes through a mixed forest on a misty and wet day

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