Hopeful Dreaming: A Vision for a National Urban Park in the Edmonton Region   

May 28, 2024
By: CPAWS Northern Alberta

Hopeful Dreaming: A Vision for a National Urban Park in the Edmonton Region  

This is a fictional retelling of what a national urban park could look like in the Edmonton region based on personal experiences. 

In my hopeful dream, it’s been one year since the North Saskatchewan River Valley bisecting the city of Edmonton was designated as a National Urban Park. As I reflect on how much of a victory it felt when the decision was finally passed, I also think about how strange it is that so much has changed yet my time spent in the river valley feels the same.  
My earliest connection to the river valley was when I first moved to Edmonton from Fort McMurray for university. I found that I was often lonely while finding my footing in a new city and for the first time, not having many familiar faces in my classes. It was such a novel concept to me that after my last class of the day, I could walk from the university campus and cross the river on foot by way of the low-level bridge. I could head along the northern bank and then loop past Emily Murphy Park on my way back towards my apartment. On the route I’d see cyclists commuting or enjoying more of a leisurely ride. You could see couples holding hands, groups of teens excitedly gabbing away, parents pushing a stroller, and sometimes I’d spot someone who seemed to be on a solitary walk like me, pensively looking out at the trees and the river with headphones in.  

Those early days exploring the river valley and seeing so many groups of people doing such different things from one another made me feel like I was already part of a community.  
Over the years, it was difficult to see certain trailheads washed away by flood and increasingly, it was evident that accessibility to the river valley was an issue. It wasn’t until I had my own experience of limited mobility that I learned an entirely different aspect of accessibility to nature than what I had previously known. I won’t go into much detail, but I was hit by a car which impacted my ability to walk without mobility aids for nearly a year.     

The funicular built by the city remains a divisive topic but ultimately it increases access to the river valley from the downtown area. Having experienced the river valley through a lens of disability (though temporary), I can tell you that added benches to rest, marked trails that indicate accessible entry by ramp, added washroom facilities and shuttle options are all welcome. These may seem like small changes, but these ‘small’ changes have made leaps and bounds in making it easier for many more to enjoy the river valley.  

A proposed National Urban Park for Edmonton
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Many fears around the National Urban Park centered around restricted access and specifically, whether we would need to pay for entry. In fact, the National Urban Park has made the river valley more accessible than ever. The river valley remains free, there are more accessible entry points, wayfinding signage, and now many more maintained trails and rest areas. These are a few of the things that I think deliver on connecting people to nature. The support available from the national urban park initiative has made it possible for many more people to enjoy the river valley, eliminating barriers and increasing opportunities for connection. Before I began working with CPAWS Northern Alberta, it was simply by luck that I learned that North Saskatchewan River Valley is an important ecological corridor for wildlife to move safely through urban regions. 

Due to the funding resulting from the National Urban Park’s establishment, there are many more interpretive signs throughout the valley which make learning about the ecological, cultural and historical facets of the river valley much more accessible. I often see folks stop and read the signs about native and invasive species, how to identify bird calls, the river valley as a scared place and as trading hub and transportation corridor for Indigenous Peoples. The concept and act of stewardship is something I believe is essential to forming a connection to nature for anyone. When it comes to a public good, like urban park space, it is often easy to take it for granted and to shift the responsibility of advocating for its longevity and its ability to thrive someplace that is external to us. It just makes sense that to foster and deepen relationships of stewardship, we would look to Indigenous stewardship practices as the foundation within the established national urban park.  
These days, while exploring the river valley, it is evident that there is a deep history here. Through the input of the First Nations and Métis Partners of the National Urban Park initiative, the importance of the area to Indigenous Peoples is seen throughout the park, and management is shared among the partners.The importance of respect for and connection to the Land is celebrated. Those who wish to use the Park may do so without fear of displacement. It is not an uncommon sight to see a tipi raised with community gathered to share food and stories. I find no need to walk with headphones anymore, as I’d rather listen to the sounds of the river flowing, the trees rustling, and I keep an ear turned to the wind on the off chance there is a song and the beat of a drum I can catch in the distance.  
Interpretive signs along trails honour First Nations and Métis cultures and languages with many of them sharing teachings, reflecting on our intertwined past, present future as Treaty People. This is only scratching the surface. There have been countless research and monitoring studies that have been made possible by the establishment of the national urban park that weave western science and First Nations traditional knowledge.  
The opportunities for recreation, connection, and learning in this ‘new’ river valley as a National Urban Park seem endless. It’s hard to believe that at one point, many were unsure if this process would be worthwhile. I am thankful that so many people in the area took the time to learn about the potential of this designation. With change, it is easy to fear that there is much to lose. Many held a deep, personal relationship to the river valley, and I empathized with the fear that by assigning a new status to the valley, their relationship to this special place that runs through the city we call home would fundamentally change. I can’t speak for others, but I have a sense that it was that special relationship to the river valley that pushed many to stand up for how much there was to lose if we, as a community, did not seize this opportunity.  
The establishment of the National Urban Park has shone a light on how integral this space is to the fabric of our communities and to local ecology. 

A proposed National Urban Park for Edmonton
view the story map


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