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This historical document can be found on the BCPS website and includes a typed, unattributed detailed letter that describes land ownership changes between 1881 and the 1940’s.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.
Notes on history of Big Hill Springs Provincial Park:
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.
Thank you to the generous organisations and individuals who supported our efforts, with project funding, unallocated donations and in kind contributions. Without these, what has been accomplished would have been impossible.
Alberta Land Stewardship
Bow River Basin Council
Cochrane Environmental Action Committee
Dr Dick Pharis
Town of Cochrane
Rocky View County
Spray Lake Sawmills
Ann & Don Ferrier
BCPS AGM 2019
Thanks to everyone who came to our AGM. Your support is appreciated. Once again we were a little too ambitious in trying compress too much information into too little time. We attempted to deal with the standard General Meeting items efficiently and then get to the more interesting topics.
Thanks especially to our generous sponsors: AlbertaEcotrust, Bow River Basin Council, Land Stewardship and CEAC who allow us to conduct our scientific studies. We thank you also our private donors, who allow us to exist as a society in helping for insurance fees and other cost. Thank you to MDL, Town of Cochrane, Cochrane Foundation , Ed, Blaine and many more for our trail maintenance project.
Thanks to Lyse for efficiently describing our finances and audit.
Kathryn Hull and Kristina Boehler of Cows and Fish provided an enlightening description of riparian health in general and the results of their 2018 work on our drainage (mostly good news) . Dr. Ymène Fouli updated us with her most recent water and sediment analysis.
Ken Stevenson informed us regarding his work on instream temperature loggers, the aquatic insect study he managed and the fish inventory he completed with Trout Unlimited.
Vivian and I briefly described trail use and maintenance program on the reserve lands.
Our 2019/20 objectives include commencement of a hydrology study of the drainage and a demonstration project for a beaver pond leveler.
Although the applications for the gravel pits immediately upstream of the spring at Big Hill Springs Provincial Park have been aside by judicial order, we expect that the proponents will reapply in the near future requiring our response.
Thanks again for your support. Please feel free to contact any of our Board Members if you have any comment or concern regarding our activities.
BIGHILL CREEK PRESERVATION SOCIETY
TEMPERATURE LOGGERS FOR THE CREEK 2019-2020
In 2017, Elliot Lindsay – Trout Unlimited Calgary – suggested to our Bighill Creek Preservation Society (BCPS) that monitoring the creek water temperature year-round at several locations in the valley would gather vital data on the creek waters within the drainage. This is particularly critical during the summer and fall months when water temperatures in the creek could rise to levels detrimental to most fish in the creek and certainly trout. Such temperature studies would complement well our existing studies on water quality/sediment studies, riparian assessments, aquatic insect studies and electrofishing studies.
The temperature loggers (14) were purchased in 2019 for BCPS by the Cochrane Environmental Action Committee (CEAC) and subsequent work by BCPS has now readied the temperature loggers for stable placement in deep pools in the spring of 2020 following the spring freshet.
The loggers have a stream life of 4-5 years and can be monitored while in location in the creek.
The longer-term plan is to initial the re-introduction of the original native Westslope Cutthroat trout through work with Alberta Environment – Fish and Wildlife, Trout Unlimited – Calgary and likely the Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Along with these projects would be the new work envisaged by BCPS to have a thorough hydrology study of the watershed which would also involve an in-depth study of the beavers and their habitat currently in the Bighill Springs Creek Watershed.
Dear members of Bighill Creek Preservation Society,
Thank you to those who attended our Annual General Meeting last Saturday. We meant to sincerely thank those of you who have been so generous these past few years. Your contributions helped with our cash flow. Without you, we could not cover the cost of insurance, postage, advertisement, website fees nor the odd prints we need. The funds we received from other grants are restricted to the water analysis project. The other ongoing projects we have (trail maintenance and insect studies) are also restricted funds.
Thank you again for your past valuable contribution.
Bighill Creek Preservation Society
Cost not covered by grants:
- Any operating cost
*We had one grant from Rocky View County to cover some of these operating costs; but it was a one time in our ”life” as a society.
- Any workshops
- Business cards