Big Island, southwest of Edmonton on the North Saskatchewan River, has attracted humans for thousands of years. For the summer of 2022, a tri-government public consultation wants to hear your opinion on protecting this unique cultural and ecological resource.
The Enoch Cree Nation, the City of Edmonton, and Alberta Environment and Parks are seeking feedback on the establishment of Big Island Provincial Park. This would be a 68 hectare parcel of Crown land in southwest Edmonton along the North Saskatchewan River. Feedback closes on August 21, 2022:
Survey – establishment of Big Island Provincial Park.
SAPAA’s Views and Recollections of Big Island
SAPAA members conducted two field-surveys in 2021 recording 131 species of vascular plants (flowering plants, conifers, horsetails) in Big Island. Big Island is an ecologically sensitive area which has seen considerable disturbance over the years. As a result, the primary objective of the park should be conservation of the ecological heritage.
A Conservation Approach to Opening the Park
Before the Park is declared and human disturbance increases, extensive rehabilitation of the site is required. This involves reconstruction and in some cases closing off of trails. This is best done before the public has access to the Park, otherwise operations will be hampered.
Walking with Minimum Infrastructure
Human interactions must be restricted to walking based activities along designated trails with minimal infrastructure and facilities. This will best protect Big Island’s habitat.
There will be demands for other recreational opportunities in particular mountain biking. In addition to the erosion and disturbance, such trails tend to proliferate when mountain bikers create off-shoot, informal routes. This and like activities results in diminished protection and increased habitat fragmentation.
Enjoyment and Protection
The slide show below includes a picture of Physostegia ledinghamii, or Ledingham’s false dragonhead. This is a relatively rare species locally, chiefly found in riverine habitats. Most local occurrences are along the North Saskatchewan River. This plant grows along the back channel at Big Island.
To protected its habitat, infrastructure such as boardwalks, needs to be built. For example, one crossing the marsh adjacent to the channel on the Big Island side. There could possibly be three viewpoints (all accessed by boardwalk) to the channel. Strict usage enforcement is required to prevent unauthorized trails across the marsh.
Take the Survey, Lend Your Voice to Conserving Big Island
At this point, it is not known what the level of supervision, monitoring and enforcement the Park will receive. Thus public support for conservation will help Park planners stand firm. Even if you are not familiar with Big Island it is important to take part in the public consultation process and support a conservation focused model.
Patsy Cotterill, board member.
Go to https://www.alberta.ca/big-island-provincial-park-engagement.aspx and scroll down to the paragraph under Take the Survey where it says Recording of June 28 Big Island Park Informational Webinar. This does provide a lot of information as far as they have got with the planning process. A big practical issue seems to be land access, and the influence of the River’s Edge subdivision on the park, and another big unknown is the role of the Enoch Cree in all this. I can’t imagine they will be ready to go in 2023, even in a limited way!
This is such a shame to allow park development of any kind on the river islands. If we feel a need to put people’s needs first then it is critically important to protect the natural areas that sustain us. The ecological diversity of these areas that have evolved to thrive over eons and purify our water, soil and air are a huge factor in human mental and physical health. If signicantly altered they can never be restored to the same complexity and health.
They need to be classified as ecological protected areas. No entry except authorized scientists for study purposes. If opened to the public in any capacity liberties will be taken and before long most everything will be trampled, wildlife chased away and its natural character permanently altered. People do not need access to everything. Leaders must have the strength to say no when necessary. Full protection of the river islands, the few natural areas left and even rarer natural topland is critically important to us all.
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