Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Parkland Priorities: Find Space for Recreation within Native Environments

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Parkland Priorities: Find Space for Recreation within Native Environments

Article excerpt

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As the unofficial capital of Canada's booming oil and gas sector, Calgary has also seen a boom in its population. And many newcomers are active young people who favor outdoor activities. They love to stroll with their dogs or race downhill on their bikes. Calgarians have found that their Bowmont Natural Environment Park, with its 2.5 miles of green space along the glacier-fed Bow River, to be a wonderful outdoor playground.

Municipal parks like Bowmont serve many roles and functions, but sometimes these roles conflict. Wise management of green space sometimes means choosing a primary role for that space and taking steps to protect it--the case at Bowmont.

While the city of Calgary is pleased to provide outdoor recreation opportunities, some uses of the park meshed poorly with its designated role, which is to protect the natural environment. The park's native vegetation provides a key refuge and food source for wildlife, including resident and migratory birds. As the city grows and public park use increases, preserving Bowmont's integrity as high-quality habitat becomes more important.

In the past, the integrity of Bowmont's natural environment was under threat due to several factors. Unauthorized trails developed by park users brought people and their dogs into sensitive wildlife habitat, including areas containing fish-spawning and bird-nesting sites. Some of the popular biking trails, running straight down steep slopes on the river bank, were a threat to the easily eroded soils of the park. Soil disturbance from the trails meant improved conditions for weeds and invasive species of plants, such as crested wheatgrass and Canada thistle. People and their dogs helped spread unwanted plants' seeds to other areas of the park, choking out native species.

To deal with the conflict of the park's purposes, the city of Calgary developed the Bowmont Park Management Plan, which reiterated the primary purpose of Bowmont: Preserve the natural environment, including wildlife and native plant habitat. While other uses of the green space would be accepted, including mountain biking and off-leash dog use, the city was tasked with managing the effects of these activities.

Commissioned to help with this, the environmental science and geotechnical engineering firm Golder Associates Ltd. began with a survey of the park. Using Global Positioning System (GPS) and Geographic Information System technology, groups of similar native plants (cover types) were mapped using aerial photography and field analysis. Golder botanists generated a list of plant species that occurred in each of these cover types. Locations where problems were occurring were mapped, documenting erosion along unauthorized trails and hot spots of invasive species.

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The resulting documents included the boundaries of vegetation cover types, such as those covered with "flood plain forest," a natural type of ecological community along the Bow's banks and flood plain. Maps also included GPS points, such as the location of more eroded areas.

The fieldwork and mapping, along with a literature search to discover best practices used elsewhere, identified opportunities for improvement.

These opportunities included removing a band of invasive vegetation separating two areas of native vegetation and replanting the area with native species. This conversion will help reduce the chance of the invasive species spreading into adjacent native communities. Filling in this gap between areas of native vegetation helps restore connectivity to these ecosystems, particularly important to birds using the Bow Valley as a migratory route. …

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