Submission to Bylaw C-8051-2020, PL 20200031, Application by Mt. Ash LP to redesignate agricultural land to industrial for purposes of gravel mining.
This submission is designed to show the importance of maintaining Bighill Creek, its critical springs and the provincial park that depend on the valley and the springs, as significant and rare intact habitat for the free-flow of biological organisms within Rocky View County.
Biological corridors are critical for the maintenance of ecological processes including allowing for the movement of organisms and the continuation of viable populations. By providing landscape connections between larger areas of habitat, corridors enable migration, colonisation and interbreeding of plants and animals.
The map below is taken from RVC’s 2011 Parks and Open Space Master Plan, which was based on earlier work done by the provincial Environmentally Significant Areas program. It indicates the presence of a significant inter-connected environmentally sensitive corridor connecting the Bow River, up through Bighill Springs Valley and on to Nose Hill and Dog Pound drainages and interspersed natural sites amongst agricultural land.
The “Grand Valley Foothills” stand out amongst RVC’s five geographic regions as the only region with an opportunity for interconnecting wildlife and all local biological organisms with important natural landscapes. Nowhere else in RVC is there a similar critical corridor – this one is unique and precious and not the place for industrial developments.RVC in the Global Biodiversity Context According to the 2019 Global Risks Report, biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse are amongst the greatest risks facing society. Biodiversity underpins human life and is responsible for ecosystem services that we fully depend upon, including food production, crop pollination, clean water, nutrient and waste recycling and regulating climate change. Humans depend on ecosystems for our economic sustainability as well as sustaining our physical and mental health. The United Nations is calling on all countries to protect 30% of their natural landscapes by 2030 and Canada has committed to protecting 25% by 2025. Such protection has to include responsibilities at the municipalities level or it will fail. Failure means disaster for ALL life on this planet. RVC needs to develop policy addressing biodiversity health.
RVC Wildlife ObligationsCorridors for biodiversity serve a number of purposes including protecting wildlife and helping animal populations thrive. They function as means to decrease human-animal conflict in the form of vehicle-animal collisions and help combat the negative effects of habitat fragmentation.
There are possibilities for identifying and establishing key interconnecting corridors linking the two biologically active valleys of the Bow River and Bighill Creek. Highway 1A between Calgary and Cochrane is recognized as the most notorious large animal killing route in Alberta, because it is such an important connector between these two valleys. It is incumbent upon RVC to stop this highway slaughter and conserve wildlife through identifying, establishing and maintaining movement corridors between the two valleys and across the highway. These north-south corridors go on to connect with those identified as significant, through the length of Bighill Creek and beyond.Threats to Bighill Creek Key Biodiversity Corridor .
Today 4 gravel mines are proposed on lands immediately NW of the nationally significant springs that are the crux of Big Hill Springs Provincial Park. These springs contribute 50% of the water that flows through the creek that enriches the steep-sided coulee with its rich habitats on either side, all the way to Cochrane and the Bow River. Industrialization of an important component of the Bighill Creek Biodiversity Corridor not only threatens the viability of the unique springs and the provincial park that depends upon them, but of critical habitat for the endangered Bull Trout, the enjoyment of thousands of park visitors and a key connection route for many wildlife and plant species that depend on the area to move through. Rocky View County has to date neglected both its remaining natural landscapes and its residents who move to the county looking for natural spaces, interconnecting nature trails and park provisions. Four new gravel mines covering 2 square miles located on the aquifer of the springs that feed the park, could not be in a more environmentally sensitive place in all of RVC.
Conclusion There is no doubt in my mind and likely the minds of most RVC residents that gravel mines on rare aquifers and on the most environmentally sensitive biodiversity corridor in all of RVC, are truly inappropriate. RVC is underlain by a great deal of gravel. There have to be less sensitive sites for the mining of gravel, certainly sites that are not atop ancient aquifers or within critical wildlife corridors.
Submitted by Vivian Pharis
Here is an example of a submission made to Rocky View County regarding the proposed gravel pits. You could choose part of it to submit your own. There is background information and an explanation of the real challenges.
We do hope to inspire you and motivate you to express your opinion. It is a very important matter.
Big Hill Springs – Not Gravel, but
An Oasis on the Prairie
Submitted (PL 20200031) February 2021 by RVC resident, Vivian Pharis
Big Hill Springs Provincial Park is no ordinary park. This tiny gem was set aside in the 1950’s as one of Alberta’s first parks, apparently on land donated by Senator Patrick Burns. Since the 1920’s people have been drawn to the prairie oasis at Big Hill Springs for picnics, fishing and camping. The attractive tumbling waters, where Grasslands meet Foothills and Parkland ecological regions, has drawn many admirers who have, between the 1950’s and 2020, repeatedly called to better protect the springs and expand the park.
Over thousands of years, Big Hill’s high-volume mineral springs laid down unusual tufa formations which are the foundation for uncommonly beautiful falling waters that flow on to form the main volume of Bighill Creek. Today this 70 acre park draws 1/4 million annual visitors and overuse is a constant threat. But, as the centre of a larger interpretive park and conservation area, Big Hill Springs could become a tourist attraction unique in southern Alberta.
Rare opportunities exist to expand the park north to connect to a larger conservation area, east to incorporate a picturesque buffalo jump with high interpretive value, west to properly protect and interpret the springs that rank among the top four mineral springs in Canada, and south-west for 6 km along a pathway through a sandstone-studded, steep-sided glacial coulee, leading all the way to Cochrane. Interconnecting pathways could join Big Hill and Glenbow Ranch Provincial Parks. Recreation, nature appreciation and tourism opportunities abound.
RVC’s Need for Parks:
Big Hill’s Unique Attributes:
Advantages of Park Expansion:
Rocky View County Parks and Open Space Master Plan:
Rocky View County has a clear need to provide greater trail and park facilities for its residents, many of whom moved here for these very amenities. County plans and various reports recommend that natural spaces be protected, interconnecting trails be developed and new parks be designated. But, despite planning exercises, reports and recommendations for action, so far little has been accomplished in the 50 years I have lived in RVC. Big Hill Springs Provincial Parks has just undergone a $1.2 million renovation that did not include expansion or protection for the vital springs. The 1998 management plan for the park contains a commitment that the park will work cooperatively with RVC for park area improvement. Expansion of this park and trail system would be a cost-effective and very responsible undertaking that could trigger a range of environmental, social and economic benefits for RVC. But, all this will be lost if gravel pits destroy the springs, which are the golden goose, and dust and noise and truck traffic drive park visitors away.
Armstrong D, Gow and Meikle W. 1998. Big Hill Springs Provincial Park Management Plan. 25 pages.
Blogorodow P. 1976. Big Hill Springs Provincial Park Mini Master Plan. 55 pages.
Hargroup Management Consultants, 2011. Rocky View County Parks and Open Space Master Plan. 111 pages.
Sutherland I. 1998. Ecological Land Classification of Big Hill Springs Provincial Park. 35 pages.
Subject:GRAVEL MINES COULD RUIN BIG HILL SPRINGS AND PARK – HEARING INPUT NEEDED BY FEB 17.
Dear Members of Bighill Creek Preservation Society:
We Need Your Help!!!
Open pit gravel mines planned for the area immediately northwest of Big Hill Springs Provincial Park risk the health of the Park and Bighill Creek. The most recent application to Rocky View County is for the Mountain Ash Limited Partnership, Summit mine. If these and the other lands in the immediate vicinity owned by gravel companies are allowed to be developed, they would create a basin over two square miles in size. The open pit mines would be located in the sensitive headwaters of the aquifer which feeds the springs in the Big Hill Springs Provincial Park and almost half of the flow in Bighill Creek. This aquifer is provincially significant due to the rarity of it having spent thousands of years depositing an unusual calcium formation in the creek bed, known as tufa. The County has opposed any assessment of the cumulative effects of these mines.
Big Hill Springs Provincial Park is a unique, much loved and heavily used ecological and recreational asset for our region. Although only about 70 acres in size, it receives almost one quarter million visitors each year. Asa result, it is currently under renovation to upgrade its facilities. Bighill Creek, and the valley it inhabits provide diverse habitat for a broad array of species ranging from birds and fish to moose, bears and cougars. It provides opportunities for recreational and natural respite for the region and the Town of Cochrane.
Gravel mines would remove the protective layers which guard the aquifer from contamination. Planned gravel excavation would remove these protective layers, leaving only one meter of gravel to filter out contaminants like spilled fuel, herbicides and contaminants released by the mining process. The water level in the aquifer fluctuates over time, raising concerns about the adequacy of the narrow remaining filter and the potential need pump water from the pit directly into the Creek.
Mining operations and the craters left behind would force the recharge of the springs through a dramatically reduced protective filter, funneling groundwater contaminants into the springs and eventually Bighill Creek. This could cause serious ramifications for the fish and aquatic species supporting them. Proposed observation wells in the mines would only identify harmful contaminants in the aquifer after they have already entered the groundwater and traveled towards the Park, making recovery and any possible mitigation far more difficult.
Bighill Springs Preservation Society is extremely concerned that open pit gravel mines adjacent the Park will do irreparable harm to these valuable assets. Significant gravel deposits exist in innumerable other locations in the region which could supply gravel without imposing significant risks to the ongoing viability of Big Hill Springs aquifer, the Park and the Creek.
We encourage people who share our concerns to voice their opposition to the Mountain Ash proposal and to open pit gravel mining in this area to the Rocky View County Council for the upcoming public hearing. Emails should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org and should reference Bylaw C-8051-2020 (Mountain Ash Application PL 20200031) in the subject line. The deadline for written comments is Wednesday, February 17th. More information can be viewed on our website (bighillcreek.ca).
Thank you for acting now!
|Thank you for acting now!|
It is urgent!
Public, written comments about gravel pit proposal can be submitted until Feb. 17.
By Gerry Bietz
President, Bighill Creek Preservation Society
Open pit gravel mines planned for the area immediately northwest of Big Hill Springs Provincial Park risk the health of the Park and Bighill Creek.
The most recent application to Rocky View County is for the 163-acre Mountain Ash Limited Partnership, Summit mine. If these and the other lands in the immediate vicinity owned by gravel companies are allowed to be developed, they would create a basin almost two square miles in size.
The open pit mines would excavate to within one meter of the water table in the aquifer which feeds the springs in the Big Hill Springs Provincial Park and almost half of the flow in Bighill Creek. The County has opposed any assessment of the cumulative effects of these mines.
Big Hill Springs Provincial Park is a unique, much loved and heavily used ecological and recreational asset for our region. Over thousands of years, the aquifer has created nationally significant calcium formations known as tufa—a focal point of the park. Although only about 70 acres in size, the park receives almost one quarter million visitors each year. As a result, it is currently under renovation to upgrade its facilities. Bighill Creek and the valley it inhabits provide diverse habitat for a broad array of species ranging from birds and fish to moose, bears and cougars. It provides opportunities for recreational and natural respite for the region and the Town of Cochrane, and has been identified as critical habitat for species at risk.
“Big Hill Springs Provincial Park is a unique ecological and recreational asset for our region.” Gerry Bietz
Gravel mines would remove the protective layers which guard the aquifer from contamination. Excavation would leave only one meter of gravel to filter out contaminants like spilled fuel, herbicides and contaminants released by the mining process. The water level in the aquifer fluctuates over time, raising concerns about the adequacy of the narrow remaining filter and the potential need to pump water from the pit directly into Bighill Creek.
Mining operations and the craters left behind would force the recharge of the springs through a dramatically reduced protective filter, funneling groundwater contaminants into the springs and eventually Bighill Creek. This could cause serious ramifications for the fish and aquatic species supporting them. Proposed observation wells in the mines would only identify harmful contaminants in the aquifer after they have already entered the groundwater and traveled towards the Park, making recovery and any possible mitigation extremely difficult.
Based on studies of the aquifer, Bighill Springs Preservation Society is extremely concerned that open pit gravel mines adjacent to the park will do irreparable harm to these valuable assets. Significant gravel deposits exist in innumerable other locations in the region which could supply gravel without imposing significant risks to the ongoing viability of Big Hill Springs aquifer, the park and the creek.
We encourage people who share our concerns to voice their opposition to the Mountain Ash proposal and to open pit gravel mining in this area to the Rocky View County Council for the upcoming public hearing. Emails should be sent to email@example.com and should reference Bylaw C-8051-2020 (Mountain Ash Application PL 20200031) in the subject line. The deadline for written comments is Wednesday, Feb. 17.
Notes on history of Big Hill Springs Provincial Park:
by Vivian Pharis
Rocky View County is the most populous county in Alberta, with around 40,000 residents
It is 3836.33 sqkm in size or 1481.22 sqmi
RVC contains 3 provincial parks and few other protected areas. The parks are Big Hill Springs Provincial Park (est. 1957), Bragg Creek Provincial Park (est. 1960) and Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park (est. 2008).
Big Hill Springs PP is 78 acres or 31.54 ha
Big Hill Springs PP is 0.4 sqkm or 0.15 sqmi
Bragg Creek PP is 316 acres or 128 ha
Bragg Creek PP is 1.28 sqkm or .48 sqmi
Glenbow Ranch PP is 3297 acres or 1334 ha
Glenbow Ranch PP is 13.48 sqkm or 5.2 sqmi
Parks make up 15.16 sqkm of RVC’s 3836.33 sqkm, or 0.4% of its landbase.
Parks Establishment, Alberta:
1930 – Provincial Parks and Protected Areas Act passed under Premier John Edward Brownlee.
1932 – Aspen Beach Provincial Park on Gull Lake became the first Alberta PP.
1930’s-1950’s – due to WW11 there was little park expansion, only 3 new lake parks were established, including Saskatoon Island PP to protect endangered Trumpeter Swans.
1951 – A new Parks Act was proclaimed, with administration going to the Lands and Forests Dept.
1951-1971 – 46 new parks were established, mainly for outdoor recreation, but in 1955 the parks mandate was broadened to include preserving nature and history, including Dinosaur PP and Writing-on-Stone PP with its petroglyphs and pictographs.
1957 – Big Hill Springs PP was established for the purposes of recreation, nature and historical appreciation. One of first 50 parks established in Alberta.
2021 – Alberta now has 473 provincial parks, including Willmore Wilderness Park under its own act.
Big Hill Springs Provincial Park Mini Master Plan, 1976
Compiled by Park Ranger111 Paul Blogorodow and 5 other park employees
55 page document focuses on specific reclamation needed but also points out the need for this park to be reinvented as a “point of interest” or “nature study” educational park that is “day use” only. Indicates that use census in 1972-73 was over 70,000 annual visitors.
This historical document can be found on the BCPS website and includes a typed, unattributed detailed letter that describes land ownership changes between 1881 and the 1940’s.
Ecological Land Classification of Big Hill Springs Provincial Park, June 1998
Compiled by Ian Sutherland for Natural Resources Service, Parks, Alberta Environmental Protection, Bow Region.
Pub T/437 ISBN 0-7785-0418-2l
– 35 page report plus Appendices of Plant and Animal species.
BHSPP was established in 1957 to “conserve a unique coulee environment and spring-fed creek system.” “The Park’s landscape features contribute significantly to under-represented Natural History Themes in the Foothills Parkland Natural Subregion.”
Historical Notes from the Above Two Studies
– Plains Indians hunted bison in the area using several jump sites, the main one is probably just east of the park; pictographs and lithic tools and thousands of bison bones have been found in the area.
– Plains Indians were of Blackfoot Confederacy and Cree. (Later, Stoney, Nakota took over area).
– Ranchers arrived in 1880’s.
– Between 1881 and the 1920’s, the land in the vicinity of the springs and today’s park changed hands 8 or 9 times, beginning as part of the huge Cochrane Ranche owned by Senator Matthew Cochrane and ending with the P. Burns Company. The land covering the springs was sold to John Boothby in 1944.
– Apparently P. Burns gifted the park area to the Alberta Government where a provincial fish hatchery was established that soon failed due to spring-time siltation killing the eggs.
– 1891-1910 – site of first creamery in Alberta, supplying local area, Calgary and rail line camps. Established here because of the constant supply of high quality water and power generation from a waterfall. Land was leased from D.M. Radcliffe.
– 1951-1956 – site of a trout hatchery, also drawn to constant supply of high quality, cold water.
– 1920’s and onwards, the site of local picnic area and later of camping so that by park establishment in 1957, heavy visitor use had degraded and damaged the area.
– 1957 – park was established to bring control to recreational use and begin the gathering of biophysical data and management planning. Already recognized that the park needed to be enlarged because the use demand that had reached its “saturation point”.
– 1972-1973 – use levels recorded as being around 72,000 annual visitors.
– 1976 – government officials recommended that park designation be upgraded to “Preservation Park” and its use limited to “day use only”.
– 1976 – a Park Management Plan laid out specific renovation works needed and stressed the need for designation as a “point of interest” or “nature study” park and, based on use levels of this “unique entity”, recommended more land be acquired, including the jump area to the east.
– 1978-1979 -an array of visitor services, facilities and buildings were removed and some reclamation was done.
– At some later point, the spring area was acquired from the Boothby family, protected separately from the main park.
– 2020 – park closed due to need for boundary and some trail realignment and due to heavy land damage from around 250,000 visitors/year.
RVC Parks and Open Space Master Plan, 2011
Page 69 of Plan:
• “Identify and protect Bighill Springs Creek and the creek valley north of Big Hill Springs Provincial Park as a conservation area; and
• Secure the road allowance to Big Hill Springs Provincial Park for public access.”
Descriptive Summary, BHSPP
Big Hill Springs Provincial Park is a tiny gem, a dot adrift in a sea of development that is most of Rocky View County. With vision, this park and its surrounding treasure of beauty and archaeology could become an attraction of great and lasting value. In fact, RVC’s 2011 Parks and Open Space Master Plan calls to “Identify and protect Bighill Springs Creek and the creek valley north of Big Hill Springs Provincial Parks as a conservation area.” Today, BHSPP comprises only 0.01% of RVC, yet attracts up to 250,000 visitors each year. Enough to close the park in 2020-2021 due to its need for repair. Within the 3836.33 sqkm of RVC, there are 3 provincial parks, making up 0.4% of the land base. BHSPP is the smallest at 78 acres.
People have been attracted to Big Hill’s springs, creek and coulee for thousands of years, with the Blackfoot Plains Indians and Cree camping in the protection of the coulee and hunting bison using jumps on both sides. Likely the main jump was the one immediately east of today’s park, that exists today with no protection. Thousands of bison bones as well as lithic tools and pictographs have been found nearby. The 1880’s brought ranchers, and again the springs were an attraction, with the first creamery in Alberta locating in 1891 on their reliable waters and lasting 30 years. Later, from 1951-1956 a fish hatchery was attracted for the same reason. The springs and water tumbling over ancient tufa formations attracted picnickers from the 1920’s onward. Recreational use began to overwhelm the site.
By1957, locals and government officials formally recognized the unique recreational, historical, archaeological and geological features of Big Hill’s springs, creek and coulee and designated them among the first 50 of what would eventually be 473 provincial parks. After designation as a recreational park, visitor use increased even more until permanent damage became evident, necessitating a new designation in 1976 as a “preservation park”. By then biophysical data was being gathered and management planning begun. As use climbed to over 70,000 yearly visitors, in order to regain control, an array of facilities and roads were removed and some reclamation was carried out. Use was limited to “day only” and all camping was halted. A Management Plan was released in 1988, addressing the need for more reclamation and refocusing use to “point of interest” and “nature study” and recommending that more land be added to this “unique entity”, including the jump area to the east.
With today’s use climbing to a quarter of a million annual visitors, protection of the entire coulee north of Cochrane to the provincial park and extending further north to Highway 567 and beyond to include Nature Conservancy lands, is an obvious necessity that could become a huge RVC asset.
• Provincially Significant Springs with steady year-around flows and temperature
• Rare tufa rock formed over thousands of years of calcium depositing out of the spring’s water onto vegetation and building up into walls and dams
• Attractive series of waterfalls over tufa formations
• Long Indigenous history including several bison jumps, bison bones, ancient tools and pictographs
• Broad range of bird, mammal and plant life representing the Foothills Parkland Subregion
• Proximity to Cochrane, Airdrie and Calgary brings up to 250,000 visitors per year
• One of only three provincial parks in all of Rocky View County
• Ecologically intact, attractive lands stretch between Cochrane and the provincial park, as well as east, west and north of the park that have all the attributes of an extensive park with attendant values for the broader area.
Just look up Elliot Lindsey’s (from Trout Unlimited Canada) video:
The Bighill Creek Preservation Society (BCPS) completed Phase II of the baseline water and sediment quality analysis and consolidated our findings.
The data collected encompass a variety of parameters and water quality indicators. These give the BCPS excellent knowledge about the status of the Bighill Creek water and sediments. The phase II analysis included a couple of extra sampling locations compared to phase I completed in 2017-2018. This allowed more knowledge-gathering about the effect of land uses upstream and in the vicinity of Bighill Creek.
The BCPS also installed 13 temperature loggers in the Creek, to monitor temperature fluctuations in the spring, summer and fall. If it is too high, native cutthroat trout will not survive.
These Temperature Loggers will allow constant monitoring of the water temperature and will provide important data for on-going Creek management and future decision making. High water temperatures are detrimental to many fish species such as native cutthroat trout.
The BCPS completed a comprehensive aquatic insect study which was championed by Tobin Benedict (B.Sc. 2019) from the department of Biological Science and Environment, University of Calgary. Ken Stevenson, board member was her supervisor.
The BCPS also initiated a citizen science project and collected one year of terrestrial insects with two Malaise traps. We are currently collecting terrestrial insects for summer 2020.
The objective of this water analysis study was to provide information to help protect the Bighill Creek aquatic and riparian environments, the downstream receiving waters, to support reclaiming the watershed as a recreational zone, and to support the reintroduction of a sport fishery. The goal is to protect Bighill Creek and to keep it as healthy as possible. The Bighill Creek Preservation Society exists to promote its protection by educating the larger public, pedestrians, and cyclists who use the area including the Bighill Springs Provincial Park, the paths along the creek belonging to ranchers, the reserve area, further downstream towards Cochrane Ranchehouse and through the Town of Cochrane.
The data collected in this report focus on water and sediment quality indicators that generally fluctuate over time. After phase I was completed in 2017-18, a phase II sampling program was recommended and completed in 2019-20. The additional data collected is invaluable in confirming the status of the parameters measured.
We have also continued our investigation for the fishery habitat. Ken Stevenson, a board member with the help of Elliot Lindsay, Trout Unlimited, have installed 13 temperature loggers in the creek. Before the freezing of the creek water, we will have collected the data needed to see if the conditions are optimum for the reintroduction of the Native West slope cutthroat trout since we know, from our aquatic insect study concluded last fall by Tobin Benedict, that we have real markers of a healthy stream. Completed riparian studies showed high quality of the riparian areas.
Furthermore, we have improved part of the trails in the reserve area and constructed 6 steps where the slope was very steep and slippery, rendering that section safer. This is a well used trail especially since the pandemic which brought so many more new pedestrians. We have also improved the quality of our foot bridge.