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New downtown beach surprises and excites Edmontonians

WATCH ABOVE: Edmontonians are discovering a new downtown attraction. As Fletcher Kent explains, it's attracting sunbathers, boaters and swimmers but the attraction wasn't built; it just sort of appeared.

The North Saskatchewan River has a new attraction.

In the shadow of Edmonton’s downtown, just downstream from the Low Level Bridge, a beach has emerged.

Kim Schaeble saw it for the first time Friday morning. She came down to the river to hunt for petrified wood.

“Honestly, it was a what-the-heck moment,” Schaeble said. “It’s an entire beach. A sand beach. It’s beautiful.”

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Schaeble marvelled at the newly created attraction alongside Brett Dermott, another passerby curious about the new beach.

“First time out here. It’s awesome,” Dermott said. “This is like a beach on the West Coast.”

READ MORE: City prepares for major changes to popular River Valley trails, footbridge

The sand slowly started to appear this spring.

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Construction crews building the Tawatina LRT bridge put temporary rock berms into the river to allow them to work.

Those berms meant sand and silt gathered just downstream and built up as the summer went on.

“I think it’d be great to have a few more people out here, to have their beach blankets out and maybe a picnic supper,” Dermott said.

“I think it would be great for the City of Edmonton to develop something like this into a permanent fixture here.”

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That, however, is unlikely.

READ MORE: New program tests whether North Saskatchewan River is clean enough to swim in 

According to city officials, that area of the North Saskatchewan isn’t safe.

A 2012 report done by Alberta Health Services for the city found the river current is too strong.

LRT construction has resulted in an urban beach in Edmonton.
LRT construction has resulted in an urban beach in Edmonton. Fletcher Kent, Global News
LRT construction has resulted in an urban beach in Edmonton.
LRT construction has resulted in an urban beach in Edmonton. Fletcher Kent, Global News
LRT construction has resulted in an urban beach in Edmonton.
LRT construction has resulted in an urban beach in Edmonton. Fletcher Kent, Global News

Still, another location might be an option. In 2014, council postponed a vote on looking at a possible Louise McKinney Park beach. Council pushed the vote back to 2018, so councillors will revisit the issue next year. That beach, however, would be halfway up the river valley. It would not be touching the water.

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And, while this accidental Tawatina LRT bridge beach likely won’t last, it’s starting an interesting conversation.

“We need to have people out on the river. We want to see Edmontonians building a strong connection to the water,” said Hans Asfeldt with the North Saskatchewan RiverKeepers.

“When we have that, then we have a community that understands the value of the river.”

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He said this beach, since it’s on the North Saskatchewan River, is a federal matter and would require an environmental impact assessment.

READ MORE: North Saskatchewan River flowing high and fast in Edmonton after heavy rainfall 

“If we’re actually interested in building a permanent beach on the river, we have to be open to what the natural flow is, how it’s going to shape the sand over the season, over the course of the year,” Asfeldt said.

“It could be constructed permanently in such a way that the benefits of river access could outweigh the manageable environmental impacts to the river ecology.”