The city is considering how to designate a contentious piece of land in southwest Edmonton — that also occupies space in several other regions — as a provincial park.
“You really have to go see it but there’s a reason why, over and over and over again in the city’s plans and in the River Valley Alliance plan, it’s called nature at its best,” Mayor Don Iveson said. “It is a really spectacular reach of the river.”
Part of the Big Island-Woodbend Natural area is within Edmonton city limits but it also spreads into Enoch First Nation, Parkland and Leduc counties and the Town of Devon.
That’s part of the reason Edmonton is looking to the province for help.
“The scope of it is so overwhelming that as a region, we’ve really struggled,” Iveson said. “Not only will they be able to do it better, I think they’d be in a position to do it a lot faster than the municipality.
“The province is able to ignore the municipal lines on the map and knit together something that makes recreation and tourism sense but also ecological sense.”
The exact size of the potential park hasn’t been determined but it could stretch as far as Devon on the southwest side and Anthony Henday Drive on the northeast side. The park wouldn’t extend beyond the top of the river bank in Edmonton.
Advocates have wanted the area to be protected for years. It is ecologically sensitive and home to numerous animals including deer, moose and amphibians.
“It’s got a lot of life in it. It’s huge. It contributes a lot to the health of the river,” said Stephen Madsen with the North Saskatchewan River Valley Conservation Society.
He said conversations about how to best preserve the area have been taking place “quietly” for years.
“We got gravity of support, not only at the municipal but the provincial level. It’s going to turn into something that future generations can enjoy,” Madsen said.
Three-quarters of the land is privately owned, but city council has received several requests over the years to turn the area into a gravel pit.
Edmonton councillors have been given a report examining the process of making the area a provincial park.
Iveson feels the region has an opportunity to make the best of this unique space.
“Big Island was the first accidental beach that Edmontonians frequented a century ago,” he said, referencing a popular spot on the river valley that appeared this summer.
Since the natural area spans so many different boundaries, and since the privately owned portion of the land is worth an estimated $25 million, the city feels the province is in the best position to secure its future.
“Really, the province… has deeper resources, has access to conservation funds and conservation partnerships with the Nature Conservancy of Canada,” Iveson said.
“The province can help work with landowners to preserve their lands or acquire their lands with a much broader set of tools and resources than municipalities have.
“Now is the time to ask them formally to consider it.”