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Bighill Creek is a Critical Wildlife Corridor

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.

Click for full image.

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

Example of submission to RVC re: Gravel pit hearing on March 2nd

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

Vision

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 1950s 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:

  • RVC is the most populous county in Alberta; people are attracted to it for “a country lifestyle” based on proximity to nature.
  • RVC reports and plans recognize that the primary recreational needs of residents are walking paths, interconnected trails and nature appreciation, including: 2018 County Plan, 2020 Rocky View Recreation Needs Assessment Study, 2011 Parks and Open Space Master Plan and draft 2021 Rocky View Municipal Development Plan.
  • Provincial parks make up 0.4% of RVC’s 1481 sq mi land base, with the 0.15 sq mi Big Hill Springs Provincial Park being the smallest, yet supporting 1/4 million annual visitors.
  • The demographics of RVC are older, with almost half being 45+ years and this trend is expected to increase; older people especially recreate by walking and nature appreciation.

Big Hill’s Unique Attributes:

  • Big Hill Springs Provincial Park has attributes of national significance, including springs that rank amongst the “top four mineral springs in Canada”, yet today they are unrecognized and neglected.
  • The spring’s high water volume (84 L/s), their constancy of volume, their year-around temperature constancy and the rare tufa formations that have built up over 1000’s of years, bestow national and provincial significance.
  • The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has ranked the springs and park area as critical habitat for threatened Bull Trout under the Species at Risk Act (SARA).
  • Bighill Creek Protection Society, a local watershed group working to develop a watershed plan for the Bighill Creek Basin, has conducted six different scientific assessments of the creek in the past 5 years, that support the goal of reintroducing endangered native Bull Trout and West Slope Cutthroat to the creek.
  • The park is provincially unique because it is one of Alberta’s only sites protecting an example of the Foothills-Parkland Subregion and supports a broad assembly of plants and animals associated with Grasslands, Foothills and Parklands.
  •  Bighill’s steep-sided valley and open landscapes to the north, support surprising numbers of wildlife, including moose, elk, mule and white-tailed deer, black and grizzly bears, wolves, coyotes, foxes, mink, weasels, skunks, porcupines, red squirrels, ground squirrels, and in the bird world, rare piping plovers, a blue heron colony that is over 100 years old, peregrine and prairie falcon nesting sites, sharp tail grouse leks and many raptor and song bird species. Even raccoons and bob cats have been caught recently on area wildlife cameras.
  • Buffalo jumps, bone piles, pictographs and lithic tools are all found in the immediate area. The area has great potential for further archaeological examination and interpretation.
  • Historically, Alberta’s first creamery was sited near the springs in 1891, and operated 19 years, supplying Calgary, rail lines, forestry operations and local residents.
  • An early fish hatchery was built to take advantage of the reliable waters that flowed year-around and maintained a constant temperature.
  • The glacial coulee that stretches about 6 km from Bighill Springs Provincial Park to Cochrane, passes through dramatic scenery where wildlife is varied and abundant. The decommissioned roadway through the coulee remains a public asset that would require little monetary outlay to open it as a walking/cycling trail. Indeed, this is a stated goal in RVC’s 2011 Parks and Open Space Master Plan.

Advantages of Park Expansion:

  • Provincial parks contribute to the environmental, social and economic well being of Albertans, including RVC residents wanting more local recreational opportunities.
  • 2017 figures indicate provincial parks contribute $1.2 billion into Alberta’s annual economy and provide 23,480 years of employment.
  • Bighill Springs Provincial Park, with no advertising, draws 1/4 million visitors annually. Its proximity to Airdrie, Cochrane and Calgary put it within easy reach of over 1.5 million.
  • With expansion, more trails and picnic sites, interpretive facilities for natural, historical and archaeological features, and major trails linking the park to Cochrane and to Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park, Big Hill has enormous long-term recreational, educational and tourism potential.
  • The proximity of the site to three population centres and its gentle topography mean the park could operate on a year-around basis.
  • The spin-off potential for local businesses due to increased tourism is substantial.

The Challenge:

  • Four gravel operators have acquired eight quarter sections or two square miles of land in the immediate vicinity of Big Hill’s springs and park that threaten to destroy the ancient aquifer the springs rely upon. For certain, they will impact the water to the springs. The first of these potential mines will be considered for approval at an RVC hearing March 2, 2021. RVC has a history of approving gravel operations with minimal examination of their environmental and social impacts. Gravel deposits underly much of RVC, many not associated with critical water ways.
  • The public has only one opportunity to influence a county decision on a gravel operation. This comes early, at the land designation stage. If this opportunity is missed, the public has no further recourse to the remaining steps in approving new mines. The public is then left to challenge problems only if they arise during operations. In the situation where a very vulnerable and rare aquifer is concerned, where endangered species are at stake in the waters, and where clean, reliable drinking water could be impacted, there is every reason for sober second consideration of an impacting development. 
  • Calgary’s mayor, Naheed Nenshi, is right now raising the alarm about declining water availability as populations increase and climate change takes a toll. He describes the need to shorten water supply lines, concentrate community living and redouble conservation efforts. There are implications for RVC. There are also obligations on counties to maintain tributary water quality and flow rates wherever possible. Putting these in jeopardy through gravel mining would be a questionable trade-off, needing thorough examination.

Rocky View County Parks and Open Space Master Plan:

  • Two Management Plans have guided operations of Big Hill Springs Provincial Park, one from 1976 and one from 1998. These and older documented evidence have described this small park as “overused”, suffering from erosion and needing expansion. Indeed, in 2011,  the public again made this point through input to RVC’s Parks and Open Space Master Plan, where there is a call to: “Identify and protect Big Hill Springs Creek and the creek valley north of Big Hill Springs Provincial Parks as a conservation area; and Secure the road allowance to Big Hill Springs Provincial Parks for public access.”
  • As part of the plan’s Grand Valley Foothills Concept Plan, is a trail proposal: “A pathway follows Big Hill Springs Road from Range Road 34 to Highway 22; a pathway starts from the City of Calgary at Nose Hill Parkway to Camden Lane and continues west to Big Hill Creek to Cochrane. A branch of this pathway follows Big Hill Creek to Big Hill Springs Provincial Park and continues north to Big Hill Springs Road.

Conclusion:

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.


References:

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.

Urgent need of your help.

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 legislativeservices@rockyview.ca 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!

Gravel pits-urgent matter

Public, written comments about gravel pit proposal can be submitted until Feb. 17.

By Gerry Bietz
President, Bighill Creek Preservation Society

Gerry Bietz

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 legislativeservices@rockyview.ca 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.

Historical review of Bighill Springs Provincial Park

Notes on history of Big Hill Springs Provincial Park:
by Vivian Pharis

Size:

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.

Main Features:
• 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.

You want to see fish in our creek?

Just look up Elliot Lindsey’s (from Trout Unlimited Canada) video:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/15NbDk1l7qksAJV1bEnlIAvT1KBSxwXD1/view?usp=sharing

Recent work

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.

Details:

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.

Fly Fishing School

Our Bighill Creek Preservation Society (BCPS) is looking forward to our planned Fly Fishing School on Sunday September 20th at the Clubhouse in Cochrane for your six children: 3 boys and 3 girls ages 10-14 years along with their parents or at least one parent.  Contact Sharon Johnson, (403-851-2562; sharon.johnson@cochrane.ca)  .
The Fly Fishing class will be held at the Clubhouse, Town of Cochrane, on Sunday September 20th from 9:am  to 1:00pm.
The Town of Cochrane will select the boys and girls who will participate with their parents to this unique event funded by the Cochrane Foundation.  You also are most welcome to attend as our Guest and to observe.  After the Clubhouse instructions we will all go to the Medford Ponds in Cochrane for actual fly fishing  until about 4:00 pm.

Bighill Springs Provincial Park temporary closure

We want to let you know the Alberta Parks approved funding for the Big Hill Springs Provincial Park Refurbishment Project that includes upgrades to parking areas, picnic sites, trails and site signage.
Depending on the contractor, we may proceed with construction August – exact timing TO BE DETERMINED. Due to the small size of the Park, all visitor facilities (parking, picnic and trails) will be under construction at the same time. In order for the contractor to complete the Project efficiently and to ensure public safety, Alberta Parks is closing the site to visitors. Big Hill Springs Provincial Park will remain closed until summer 2021 to ensure reclaimed areas are well established before welcoming visitors back into the park.
For updated information the project and construction schedule, go to: (https://www.albertaparks.ca/albertaparksca/advisories-public-safety/advisories/)
While we do not have a confirmed construction start date as it will depend on the contractor, it may start in early August. We are spreading the word now to provide the public with some notice of construction and park closure.

BHS Public Advisory_Project Map

Interpretative walk this coming Saturday, June 20th

Cows and Fish in conjunction with Bighill Creek Preservation Society has organized an interpretative walk.
You are invited to join us on June 20 .
 
We will be offering two guided riparian walks (2.5 hours in duration each) on Saturday, June 20, 2020. This includes a morning walk from 9:30 to 12:00 pm and an afternoon walk from 1:00 pm to 3:30 pm. There are 5 tickets available for each session. Participants are asked to register for one session only.