Our Ribbon of Blue and Green
This blog post is brought to you by Nikita Rubuliak at the University of Alberta. We will be featuring guest blog posts for the next few months from University students.
Since I was a little girl, I have had a craving for the outdoors. This meant exploring my backyard, playing in the park, going to my cabin, and making trips out to the Rockies with my friends and family. Just simply ‘being’ outside made me happy, and of course, it still does. For a city girl like me, sometimes it is hard to immerse oneself in nature without driving a distance. Edmonton, however, is a little different than most cities — it has the privilege of existing along a portion of the North Saskatchewan River, an area that locals refer to as the river valley, and which I know as my favourite part of the city. Dave Hancock, a contributor to the book “Coyotes Still Sing in my Valley,” said it perfectly: “Anyone who has ever lived in Edmonton knows what I am talking about. Our river valley […] is a jewel to be cherished” (Hancock, 2006, vii). Being surrounded by nature has always been something I have loved, so I feel fortunate in having a space to escape to right in my backyard.
Although the river valley has been a valuable part of the city since Edmonton’s establishment in 1904, many people, including myself, are often unaware of what it really has to offer. For one, its actual size is surprising — 7400 hectares, to be exact. Believe it or not, it is 22 times larger than New York’s Central Park (Coming to Edmonton, 2015). It turns out that the river valley is actually the largest stretch of urban parkland in North America (River Valley Parks, 2016). Its size outcompetes Stanley Park in Vancouver (approximately 400 hectares) and is only 150 hectares smaller than Whitehorse’s Chadburn Lake Park (Stanley, Park 2016; Chadburn Lake Park Information, 2016). Within this vast ribbon of blue and green lies 22 major parks and over 150 kilometres of interconnecting trails, offering many opportunities for different activities throughout all seasons: biking, running, skiing, snowshoeing, canoeing, picnics, or just strolling (River Valley Parks, 2016). I even stumbled upon an opportunity for people to take Segway tours.
Apart from the variety of opportunities to be active, the river valley simply offers an escape from city life without having to actually leave the city. Winter or summer, it is an inner-city oasis where one can withdraw to for a few moments to become enveloped in nature. On a personal note, spending time in the river valley brings me peace and allows me to take a breath of fresh air. Literally. We as humans have become disconnected from the natural world; this world that has provided us with air, water, food, natural resources, and enjoyment now exists separately from many of us. Living in the city it is easy to forget about nature and to succumb to this disconnect. In one of the chapters from “The Coyotes Still Sing in My Valley,” contributor Jim Butler discusses the human to nature connection. He mentions that “urban nature places have become green hospitals” (Butler, 2006, 254-255). The stress experienced by people in the city is immense, so these wild, natural, or ‘green’ spaces provide balance to busy urban lives. Getting outside and being surrounded by nature is unbelievably important. To have a space where us Edmontonians have easy access to that offers just this kind of nature therapy is something we should not take for granted.
Our ribbon of blue and green here in Edmonton offers endless value to our society, but it also provides and contains a large amount of ecological value. The river valley is home to hundreds of bird and mammal species as well as thousands of plant and insect species who actively contribute to the biodiversity of our province. The water of the river itself not only is a major source of Edmonton’s drinking water supply, but it also contains and supports a variety of species that one would not necessarily see. Fish species such as burbot, goldeye, lake sturgeon, mountain whitefish, northern pike, sauger, sucker, and walleye are found and supported by the river within city limits. (Fishing, 2016). The river itself also supports species such as muskrats, beavers, geese, ducks, herons, coots, and many others!
“The close proximity of water and land provides a rich matrix of habitat types that provide resources for survivorship, reproduction and short - and long - distance movement of terrestrial and aquatic animals and plants” (Mandryk, 2006, 54)
Not only does the river valley function as a city centre for biodiversity, it also serves as an extremely important wildlife/ecological corridor. If this concept is new to you, the term refers to the fact that the river valley serves as a bridge between habitats across and through which species can travel and exist. Corridors provide landscape and ecosystem connections which are “critical for the maintenance of ecological processes including allowing for the movement of animals and the continuation of viable populations” (Wildlife Corridors, 2004). Additionally, Jim Butler brought up an interesting point about the fact that the river valley itself is not just the wildlife corridor, but as well the ravines that enter into it (Jim Butler, Interview). These ravines are extensions of the river valley that pass through different areas of the city. They facilitate the branching of the Boreal Forest into Edmonton’s boundaries, allowing its wildlife to pass through. This is the reason why we are able to witness so many diverse and interesting species not only in the river valley itself but in surrounding neighbourhoods and on the city’s outskirts. For instance, it would not be uncommon to see deer, coyotes, and even porcupines in the vicinity. These corridors are important given that many of our rich, diverse, and beautiful ecosystems have been subject to human disturbance such as land manipulation and fragmentation: development of cities, roads, suburbs, etc. In a rapidly developing world and growing city, being able to observe these species in what for many of us is our own backyard is an aspect we should honour, embrace, and appreciate.
Although many value what the river valley has to offer, it still experiences negative impacts from humans and is continually under threat from urbanization. Luckily there are initiatives to help retain the ecological integrity of the area. Organizations such as The River Valley Alliance, Alberta Trail Net, North Saskatchewan River Valley Conservation Society, North Saskatchewan Watershed Alliance, and The City of Edmonton are involved either in protecting the species within the river valley and the integrity of the land, or encouraging people to get outside and use the spaces.
It is important to discuss that CPAWS’ Northern Alberta Chapter, located in Edmonton, is also playing a role in current protection and conservation efforts of the river valley. Their “Protect Alberta’s Headwaters” campaign involves working with the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative to improve and increase protection of Edmonton’s headwaters, which are located in the Bighorn Backcountry near Nordegg, Alberta. These headwaters have a direct correlation to the health and condition of Edmonton’s stretch of the North Saskatchewan River as well as many other cities and communities in Alberta. To quantify the value of the headwaters, the Bighorn area supplies approximately 90% of the North Saskatchewan River’s water (You and the North Saskatchewan Regional Plan, 2016). Unfortunately, the headwaters are potentially under threat due to industrial development, competition for land use, irresponsible recreation, pollution, erosion, etc. Effective management and planning strategies must be implemented in order for the health of the headwaters to be sustained. Learn more about the campaign!
As Edmontonians, having access to the river valley contributes to our quality of life. It offers an opportunity and incentive to do something active, to gain peace of mind or to re-connect with and spend time in nature. It also contributes to our physical health. Plant species, particularly trees, function as carbon sinks, providing us with cleaner air, which is especially important for those living in an urban environment. If you are someone who has not yet experienced what our ribbon of blue and green has to offer, I genuinely hope this blog inspires to take the time to do so. For those who have experienced it, I encourage you to take a moment to reflect on how the river valley has impacted your time in Edmonton. Because, in my mind, the river valley is an asset that helps to define Edmonton. It is something that I am proud of, an asset that positively contributes to our well-being, and that I hope will be sustained and protected for future generations of both wildlife and Albertans.
Butler, Jim. “Reconnecting to Nature.” In Coyotes Still Sing in My Valley, edited by Ross W. Wein, 254-255. Edmonton, AB: Spotted Cow Press, 2006.
“Chadburn Lake Park Information”. Whitehorse: The Wilderness City. Accessed March 30, 2016. http://www.whitehorse.ca/departments/planning-building-services/plans-and-implementation/chadburn-lake-park-management-plan/chadburn-lake-park-information
“Coming to Edmonton”. University of Alberta. Accessed April 3, 2016. http://www.istar.ualberta.ca/en/Programs/StutteringTherapy/ComingtoEdmonton.aspx
“Fishing”. The City of Edmonton. Accessed March 30, 2016. http://www.edmonton.ca/activities_parks_recreation/parks_rivervalley/fishing.aspx
Hancock, Dave. Forward to Coyotes Still Sing in My Valley, Edited by Ross W. Wein. Edmonton, AB: Spotted Cow Press, 2006
Jim Butler, telephone call, March 1, 2016
Mandryk, Adele M. “The North Saskatchewan River and Watershed.” In Coyotes Still Sing in My Valley, edited by Ross W. Wein, 54. Edmonton, AB: Spotted Cow Press, 2006
“Protect Alberta’s Headwaters”. CPAWS Northern Alberta Chapter. Accessed February 27, 2016. http://cpawsnab.org/campaigns/headwaters
“River Valley Parks”. The City of Edmonton. Accessed April 3, 2016. http://www.edmonton.ca/activities_parks_recreation/parks_rivervalley/river-valley-parks.aspx
“Stanley Park”. City of Vancouver. Accessed April 2, 2016. http://vancouver.ca/parks-recreation-culture/stanley-park.aspx
“Wildlife Corridors.” NSW Government. PDF. Accessed February 27, 2016. http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/resources/nature/landholderNotes15WildlifeCorridors.pdf
“You and the North Saskatchewan Regional Plan.” Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative. Accessed April 2, 2016. https://y2y.net/work/what-hot-projects/you-and-the-north-saskatchewan-regional-plan