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Trails Tell Tales

by: Vivian Pharis, BCPS Board

Trails Tell Tales

Newsletter October 2018

Bighill Creek Preservation Society Newsletter

It has been a busy year for BCPS. One of the things that we’ve allowed to slip is our communication with our supporters. This is our first newsletter, intended to be a regular undertaking and a brief update on our activities.

The BCPS Annual General Meeting is scheduled for Saturday, November 17th at the Spray Lake Family Sports Centre. We’ll cover some of the items below in more detail then. We’ll email a reminder and further details of the AGM as the date approaches.Many thanks to those who’ve offered your volunteer efforts. We have a number of projects coming up. Obviously much of the field work will need to wait till spring but we’ll be in touch as we get organized and set some schedules. Below are some of the issues that have kept us occupied.

Insect Study’s Spring Start

This spring, BCPS will initiate a study of what insects inhabit our environmental reserve within the Bighill Creek valley. We hope to involve local schools in the project, once it is underway. A grant from the Town of Cochrane has allowed BCPS to purchase two Malaise insect traps that will help us begin this work. We are seeking local expertise to help us.

Understanding local insect populations, including what they are, where they live and their health, is globally recognized as increasingly important. Elsewhere it is found that insect populations are equally at risk as are populations of many backboned species, in our increasingly human-dominated world. Insects are integral to the functioning of healthy ecosystems, as well as to our own food production. We need to know and understand them better.

First Year of Water Quality Analysis

A chance meeting of several BCPS board members with Georesources and soils scientist, Dr. Ymene Fouli, originally of Tunisia, proved great happenstance as she has proven a wonderful professional to conduct our first year of water quality studies.

With funds from Alberta Ecotrust, Alberta Land Stewardship Centre, Bow River Basin Council and Cochrane Environmental Action Committee, we have been able to do five sets of analysis of five sites on Bighill Creek, from Highway 567, south to the confluence with the Bow River. Generally, water quality is good to excellent throughout, attesting to healthy riparian habitats down this length. A few contaminate problems have shown up within the Town of Cochrane and higher than expected organic matter occurs above Highway 567. This matter tends to be diluted by the influx of excellent quality water entering from Big Hill Springs.

BCPS is currently applying for grants to conduct a second year of water quality studies to see if last year’s trend continue.

Electrofishing with Trout Unlimited, June 13, 2018

BCPS is excited and encouraged by the results of this first fish study undertaken at four sites along Bighill Creek. The study was facilitated by fisheries biologists Elliot Lindsay and Haley Tunna of Trout Unlimited, assisted by BCPA board member, Ken Stevenson. The lower 5 km of the creek proved to have excellent riparian habitats and harboured a surprising number and variety of fish species. Water temperatures, qualities, volume and pH were all excellent in June.

Near the creek’s confluence with the Bow River, in a space of 12 minutes of electrofishing a 100 m stretch, 23 fish were taken and measured before being released. These included 16 longnose dace, 4 brown trout, 2 native suckers and 1 rainbow trout. Near the Farmer’s Market, 54 fish were taken in 12 minutes from 100 m of water; 26 dace, 14 suckers, 8 brown trout, 4 brook trout and 2 Rocky Mountain whitefish. The next site upstream yielded only dace and suckers, but in the cold waters of Big Hill Springs, at the park, 16 brook trout were taken.

Results of this Trout Unlimited study have been published by BCPS.

Beaver Studies, 2019

Upstream of Cochrane for about 8 km, Bighill Creek is or has been, home to many beavers and their dams. In 2019, BCPS is hoping to raise grant funds to allow the Cows and Fish organization to undertake an in-depth study of the riparian habitat and beaver activities in the lower 8 km of the Creek.

Further, we are planning to test “pond levellers” in several active ponds that threaten to flood Ranche Road in particular. The levellers work to maintain beaver ponds at a certain level, allowing beavers to continue to live and work in the pond without removal and without flooding roads or pastures.

In 2019, Cows and Fish are planning a workshop on the subject of the value of beavers in the ecosystem and the role pond levellers can play.

Mapping the Watershed

Three SAIT students, as part of their studies have a created a series of maps of Bighill Creek watershed. These are very useful in allowing us to visualize various aspects of the drainage. We plan to have one of the students present their work at our AGM.

Edible Plants Walk-rescheduled

We have rescheduled our edible plant walk to Sunday, May 6th because the path was too icy. We would like you to join us.If we have a group of 8 people, the cost will be $40.00 per person. This walk is for adult and not suitable for children. There will be a waiver form to fill out.
For more information, please read the following.

Join Full Circle Adventures and Bighill Creek Preservation Society, for an Edible Plant walk on Sunday May 6th, 2018

Learn how to identify the edible and healing plants that grow in the Bighill creek valley. Discover where they grow so you can watch them come up throughout the year. You will learn over 7 edible and healing shrubs, trees and plants and how to use them.
When: from 10 am to 2 pm Where: Meet at the above trail sign, further down the road
What: Bring ice trekkers, just in case. Must sign a Waiver to attend.
Price: $45 per person, bring a cheque or cash

Contact: or for more info and to confirm registration

About Julie
Julie is an IGA certified hiking guide and nature educator. She has interpreted nature to elders, kids and adults, guiding in Southern Alberta for more than 25 years. During this time, she has identified over 500 Prairie, Foothills, Montane, Sub-Alpine and Alpine plants. Sharing her knowledge about this flora, especially the edible plants, has become her passion.
Julie loves teaching everything you need to know about using wild edible plants; identification, growing locations, planting in your own garden if you wish, and sustainable harvesting. Her goal is to help you discover the wisdom of native plants.

Alberta Council for Environmental Education –
Interpretive Guides Association –
Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society –
Wild About Flowers:
Bow Point Nursery:
Boreal Herbal by Beverly Gray:


Our perspective on the newly proposed gravel pits

see PDF
BCPS Big Hill Springs Aquifer and Gravel Pits

Re: The inappropriate location of three new gravel pits adjacent to Big Hill Springs:

Bighill Creek Preservation Society (BCPS) was associated in 2015 to protect and preserve the natural, archaeological and historical features of the Bighill Creek watershed. We are particularly concerned about the negative impacts three new gravel pits would have on the source water for Big Hill Springs Provincial Park and the Bighill Creek ecosystem downstream.

The proposed Summit, McNair and Lafarge pits would be located on the aquifer which provides the springs which is the raison d’etre for the Park. (See attached Map BCPS Big Hill Springs Aquifer and Gravel Pits).  The pits would remove protective overburden and expose up to 480 acres of the aquifer to contamination and operational de-watering.  Applications for these pits are currently under consideration by Rocky View County (RVC).

BCPS is of the opinion that gravels sought by these three companies are common in the area and exist in two large swaths across the northern regions of RVC. It is therefore unnecessary and inappropriate to allow extraction which puts at risk a nationally unique set of Springs and a coveted and heavily used Provincial Park.

Below is a summary of the reasons why BCPS opposes the current site proposals for these three pits.

  1. Unique Attributes of Big Hill Springs
    • Listed in surveys for Alberta’s Environmentally Significant Areas studies, as being of national significance due to unique limestone formations and because of their consistently high and even temperature flows, throughout the year.
    • Flow rate of the Springs is higher than that of other nearby springs arising from the Paskapoo geological foundation.
    • According to a 2007 Geology Department study from the University of Calgary (attached), the spring’s water arises from fluvial deposits mostly just above the Paskapoo bedrock, and from a recharge area of about 31 square kilometers that trends NW and includes lands under the three proposed gravel pits.
    • This recharge area produces a measurable enhancing effect, likely due to several ancient (preglacial) bedrock channels feeding into the aquifer. It is thus known as an “enhanced recharge”, something rather uncommon.
    • The Springs contribute a majority of flow into Bighill Creek, supporting the diverse riparian habitat between the Park and the confluence with the Bow River.
    • The Springs at the Park make a significant contribution to the water quality of Bighill Creek. BCPS’s 2016-2017 water analyses indicate water quality in Bighill Creek upstream of the Park is of considerably poorer quality prior to dilution by water emanating from the Park.


  1. Big Hill Springs Provincial Park – Already under stress
  • This park was established in 1963 as a 63 acre “point of interest” educational and nature appreciation park. It soon drew so many visitors from nearby Calgary as to show almost immediate deterioration, deterioration that continues today due to tens of thousands of annual visitors.
  • Pit operations; with their attendant noise, air pollution, possible aquifer impact and dangerous roadway (Highway 567) congestion will diminish the Park experience for visitors and degrade habitat. This little park needs fewer, not more stresses.
  1. Adjacent gravel pits are inappropriate for site
  • High impact industrial uses of adjacent lands are inappropriate for the sustainability of a unique set of springs and for a highly valued and much used Provincial Park.
  • The pits are proposed on one of two extensive gravel/sand deposits occupying wide swaths of RVC land. These same aggregates are accessible from many local but less sensitive lands.
  • The aggregate layer targeted by the three pit proposals is 10-20 m of permeable sands and gravels, overlain by a less permeable cap of 4-6 m of silts, clays, sands and gravels. Once this cap is removed, the exposed permeable layers will open the aquifer to contaminates.
  • On-site contaminates from fuels and other petroleum products used during extraction, and agrichemicals that can leach into new pits from nearby farmlands, will have little chance of being filtered out before reaching the Big Hill Springs due to the short distance between the pits and the spring’s aquifer.
  • The draft Aggregate Resource Plan for RVC emphasized environmental responsibility in new gravel pit sitings. We assume the final document, long in revision, will be stronger still in environmental protections.

BCPS asks RVC: 

  1. That these three gravel pit proposals be reassessed in light of their potential impacts on a unique and important water source, on a publicly valued provincial park, and for their potential impact on the Bighill Creek watershed.
  1. That the pit’s owners be helped to re-locate to more appropriate locations within RVC.

Trail Monitoring, Environmental Reserve, Bighill Creek

Monitoring Trail Transformation, Environmental Reserve, Bighill Creek
By Vivian Pharis, Board Member, BCPS

BCPS determined that it would wise to begin a formal set of annual measurements of the main loop trail through the Environmental Reserve that we now steward. I was tasked with setting up a number of measurement sites and with taking the initial photographs and measurements this summer.
I established seven measurement sites along the trail, the first three being on the stretch of the ER trail that is actually on Mt. St. Francis Retreat land. A portion of the ER trail begins at our sign near the last vehicle bridge upstream on Bighill Creek, is on Retreat land that BCPS stewards under a special agreement with Mt. St. Francis. The final four sites lie along the south-side trail, except for site 7 that measures a piece of trail leading from the bridge up to the decommissioned road on the north side of the reserve.

Eroded section of trail already in need of rehabilitation. The trail has now been rerouted around this portion.

Human use of the ER loop trail has greatly increased in the last few years, and with the example of the very overused and eroded Big Hill Springs Provincial Park at the upper end of the valley, BCPS Board members are concerned that ER trails do not suffer similar overuse.

This is going to mean regular monitoring, and possible use adjustment, trail maintenance and trail re positioning. We have now closed a short, steep portion of the south loop and will begin some rehabilitation of this site. This closed section is now signed and a new, higher trail has been flagged for through use.

Seven trail markers will allow monitoring from the same sites each year.

This summer BCPS initiated a monitoring program for the loop trail through the Environmental Reserve. Seven sites were chosen for annual measurement in order to monitor erosion. Each site was measured and photographed.
The above two photos show the expanded and very eroded state of trails through Big Hill Springs Provincial Park.

Seven sections of the loop trail have been selected for annual measurement and for photographic record in order to monitor erosion.

One of the areas of trail that will be monitored and rehabilitated or routed around.

BCPS is hoping to prevent this sort of extreme damage to trails within the Environmental Reserve
The photos above measure other trail segments,
below shows a portion of the Environmental
Reserve loop trail that is already in need of

AGM coming up soon!


Annual General Meeting

Bighill Creek Preservation Society

November 18th, 2017

At 13h00, in the hall of Seniors on the Bow

Spray Lakes Sawmill Family Sport Community Centre


Agenda Items

* Trail Use Survey – 3 summer months of 2017, through motion sensor camera
Vivian Pharis
* Trail Erosion Monitoring initiated
Vivian Pharis
* Trail Maintenance – work done, work required
Gerry Bietz
* Beavers – Their benefits to our environment.
Dr. Ken Stevenson

* Update on Gravel Pits, Big Hill Springs area.
Gerry Bietz and Vivian Pharis
* Canada thistle-eating weevil test plot initiated
Gerry Bietz
* Water quality testing – first summer and fall of results
Dr. Ymene Fouli
* Stewardship assessment
Gerry Bietz
* Financial Statement and Grants Update
Lyse Carignan
* Election of Board Members


Watershed Study begins

We have been successful in obtaining grants from Land Stewardship Centre, AlbertaEcotrust and Bow River Basin Council to initiate our Watershed Study. It should be completed by the end of July 2018.

Trail maintenance

This fall we will start upgrading our one trail. If you are interested in helping to upgrade our trail please contact us by email at

Recent activities-Spring 2017

We have spent the winter  applying for grants from different organizations. We were successful with Bow River Basin Council, but we need matching funds in order to be able to conduct a science-based watershed study. We are waiting to hear from Land Stewardship Centre and  AlbertaEcotrust.

Last Friday, May 19th, we erected our first sign to mark the reserve and municipal  lands and the trail in  the area. The erection of these signs was made  possible thanks to our volunteers and to Cochrane Foundation who donated money for the purchase of our website, wildlife cameras and our famous signs.

This summer we will tackle the upgrading of the trails and we will need more volunteers. If you would like to help, please contact us at :

Governance and Management of Riparian Lands Conference /Workshop

when: February 23, 2017

where: Cochrane Ranche House

purpose: To teach municipalities and other stakeholders about the importance of privately owned riparian lands. To provide participants with emerging knowledge of best available science and policy tools to understand the functions, deleniate riparian building development setbacks, govern and manage these lands.

partners: CEAC and BRBC…

registration: Eventbrite

cost: $50-$100. (to be determined)

attendees: 100-150