Monday, November 28, 2011

Explorer Day in the River Valley

Many of us appreciate how lucky we are to live in a region with an incredibly vast river valley park system, but do we fully realize how important this parks system is for the well being of our children? I had the pleasure of joining the Young Naturalist Club of Edmonton (YNC)at this month's Explorer Day. YNC Project Coordinator Kelsie Sharun and I had the opportunity to discuss the club, and the alarming trend of children spending less time outdoors.

"Research indicates there is a disproportionate amount of time being spent by young people indoors in front of a digital screen, rather than outdoors in natural spaces," Sharun says. "Many families are at risk of developing social, physical and psychological issues that accompany a disconnection with nature. Pioneers of the 'Children and Nature' movement argue that an upbringing without experience in the natural world has a marked effect on physical and mental health, as well as learning capacities."

With this in mind, I had a new appreciation for the YNC Project and the families that take part in it. The YNC is a regional project that engages children and their families in nature education, and maybe most importantly, nature appreciation. Members of YNC explore and discover the natural world through Explorer Days where they learn about plants, birds, bugs, fish, mammals, and the living systems that surround them.

I had a blast at the November 12 event, "Stalking and Tracking Creatures in the Edmonton River Valley" sponsored by the Edmonton Community Foundation. The first half of the day was spent inside with John Janzen Nature Centre interpreter Blair leading the group in making their own animal track molds. The kids then sat in a circle where artifacts like beaver pelts and enclosed insects were passed around.

My favourite moment had to have been when Blair picked up a moose leg from her box of goodies. The room filled with a collective "ooooh!" Watching the kids stroke and examine each artifact was an incredibly honest moment of wonderment.

We also had the pleasure of meeting Sonic the Tiger Salamander. I couldn't believe the size of him! I didn't know such large salamanders were native to our region.

The weather could not have been more cooperative either. We had our year's first snowfall and the families were just itching to frolic in the fresh powder. Everyone bundled up with their magnifying glasses and headed into the river valley to see what kinds of tracks they could find. There were squeals from every direction as the children pointed out dog, bird, mouse, and even hare tracks. The day ended with Kelsie handing out the Explorer Day certificates and badges to which the little Explorers eagerly accepted.

If you would like to be involved in Explorer Days, contact the Nature Alberta office and pick up a family membership for only $15 a year. The next Explorer Day is December 11 where the explorers will learn the basics of "birding" in Emily Murphy Park. If you have any questions, contact or call 780-427-8124.

C. McPhee

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The River Valley Alliance and the RVA Mobile App

We are coming to the end of the first stage of our RVA Mobile App project and it is time to introduce the public to one of the projects the River Valley Alliance is working on.

Back when there was snow on the ground, the RVA Communications Committee brought forward a proposal to create a mobile app that would highlight the trails along the river valley.  Not only would it provide residents new places to explore, it would give visitors exposure to our world-class park system. A secondary use for our project would be to highlight where we still need connectivity to build the world’s largest urban park. 

The River Valley Alliance partnered with a great company who are the brains behind a fantastic trail mapping system and website called EveryTrail.  If you go to , you will see over one million trails covering 145 countries around the world.  It is social media on steroids and is a fantastic site to find and explore the world around us.  

Right now, the RVA is focusing on walking trails and there are 60+ walking guides covering over three hundred kilometers of the river valley. Looking down the road, the RVA plans to add cross-country ski trails, neighborhood walks and bike trails as we continue to build out and add to our trail information.  The goal of the RVA Mobile App Project is to become a one-stop shop for residents and tourists who want to learn and explore the river valley system.

It was a tough year for mapping the trails with poor weather hampering the process and a record year for mosquitos.  However, it has also been a rewarding experience of discovery and exploration of a trail system that goes from fully developed parks to just a simple nature trail running in the trees.  You never know who you will bump into out there: runners, bikers, pets, naked people, university researchers, kids, boaters and so many other park users. The river valley is a vibrant, living place and it is on everyone’s doorstep.  

I can tell you firsthand from walking from Fort Saskatchewan to Devon and meeting the people that live in the capital region, it is the river valley system that people love and embrace.  Ten million visits a year to the river valley can’t be wrong.

Our first mobile app is available in the Android market here:  River Valley Alliance mobile App.  As we release different mobile versions of our app, you can always explore our guides online at:

As always, follow the RVA at our website, twitter, facebook and right here.

Enjoy your river valley!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

RVA Chair Segways in River Valley

Photo:  Sol Rolingher, Chair of The River Valley Alliance and Chris Szydlowski of the River Valley Adventure Co., enjoy Edmonton’s spectacular river valley park by trying out a Segway in Louise McKinney riverfront Park. 

Photo was taken in Louise McKinney Park, which is below the Shaw Conference Centre, and across from the Edmonton Queen, looking west toward the majestic Hotel MacDonald.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Creating the Capital City Recreational Park

While researching the history of the river valley park system, I had the luck of sitting down with Roman Fodchuk, the original Landscape Architect of the Capital City Recreation Park. Now retired and living in British Columbia, Roman recalled the challenges of creating a park out of unstable riverbanks and former industrial sites.  

For people unaware of the CCRP, the Capital City Recreation Park created parkland on both sides of the North Saskatchewan River from the High Level Bridge to the Strathcona Science Park in the mid 1970’s.  Many of the structures and bridges people use every day were created at this time.  

The logistics were massive. Over 1,200 acres of landscape development, 116 acres of erosion control, 7,950 trees planted, 31,600 shrubs, 200 million wildflowers planted by helicopter, four pedestrian bridges, two overpasses, four wood bridges, three kilometers of berms, 75,000 cubic yards of gravel, 27,000 cubic yards of heavy rock and so much more.

In Roman’s words (I love the Calgary reference):

In 1975, Premier Lougheed announced an Urban Parks Program in Alberta for the two major cities, Calgary and Edmonton. This program recognized the increased urbanization and the new requirements for healthy city living. This foresight was cognizant of the pressures of the new urban dweller upon elements of the natural environment and the need for comprehensive amenities that would augment outdoor physical activities. This, of course, also includes the natural beauty of a wide river valley that establishes a unique meandering corridor and outstanding landmark in Edmonton. Calgary is not so fortunate.

The Urban Parks Program was funded by the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund as an investment in Alberta's natural heritage. The goal of the Urban Parks Program was the: "establishment of natural environments and the development of these areas to enable their sustained and unimpaired use for outdoor recreation." Specific objectives included:

   *    To provide for a variety of outdoor recreation opportunities
   *    To allow people of all incomes to participate in these opportunities
   *    To have easy access to surrounding urban areas
   *    To preserve and augment the natural landscape features and provide recreational facilities in harmony with the beauty of the North Saskatchewan River Valley.

The Capital City Recreation Park was developed by the Alberta Government within a partnership agreement with the City of Edmonton. Both the Alberta Government and the City were involved in a Client capacity throughout the planning and design process. There were various Committees established with appropriate responsibilities. At the top were the Executive Committee, with various Ministers and the Mayor's Office; to the Planning Committees and on to the Community Meetings Committees to the Project Management and Design Group. Our responsibility as consultants was to develop a working procedure that was flawless in its systematic operation, from top to bottom.

Roman Fodchuk and associates were the Prime Consultants for the Planning, Design and Development of the entire park system. This included the approaches to the High Level Bridge to the far eastern end at Highway #16 in Strathcona County. This was a19 kilometer stretch of the North Saskatchewan River Valley Parks System within the City of Edmonton. It was developed for intensive recreational use consisting of a series of public amenity nodes interconnected with a bikeway and walkway system.

The next stage was the Design and Construction Stage. Our firm completed this project and this served as the prototype for eventual extension of the Parks System to the south and west on the river valley. It also served as a prototype for the eventual expansion of the Urban Parks Program to five other smaller cities: Grande Prairie, Lloydminster, Red Deer, Medicine Hat and Lethbridge. We were awarded EXCELLENCE in Urban Design Awards by the City of Edmonton for our planning, design and public coordination of the Capital City Recreation Park.

Meeting Roman has been a stroke of luck for me, and he has provided valuable insight into the creation of our modern park system. In addition, he has also shared some great documents from the time. One of my favorites (so far) is this proposed pedestrian bridge from Rundle Park to the Science Park. While the bridge was built, the weir and renewable energy exhibits never made the cut.  
Image Courtesy of Roman Fodchuk
While Roman is justly proud of the work his company completed back in the 1970’s, the irony is that the information he has passed on may well help restore parts of the river valley in the future. Thanks again Roman!

Mike Lush
RVA Public Member, Strathcona County

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Making a splash in the North Saskatchewan River

Canoeing in a 10 person voyageur canoe with fellow River Valley Alliance members this past Saturday was nothing short of a good time by all. 
From the first few minutes in the canoe, I realized that I’d been transported from civilization into the wilderness of the valley. We saw signs of fall already starting to show its colors along the luscious banks. And it made me wonder what it must have been like all those years ago when the river was the only corridor of travel.

The canoes were navigated down the river from Voyageur Park in Devon to Laurier Park at the Valley Zoo by Ceyana Canoe Club guides. It is worth noting that we felt very comfortable with the guides since some of them have vast experience in canoeing. For instance, some of the people who did the David Thompson brigade trip in 2008, a 63 day trek from Rocky Mountain House to Thunder Bay as well as the 2011 trip from Invermere, BC, to Astoria, Oregon were the people we were paddling with. They kindly volunteered their time and canoes so thank you from us all at the RVA.
We stopped on a beach to have our lunch and take in the sheer wonder around us. It was peaceful and naturally beautiful. It only took 4 hours to make the trip since these canoes are fast on the water.

Hot & sunny it was indeed. The sun glistened from the water making it look very inviting.  The clear water showed the varying river bottom over our journey. We had to navigate around sandbars since the water was low enough to stop you still in your tracks in parts along the way.

We saw many people at access points along the shore line. From panning for gold to walking the dog or on a family outing, they were all there to enjoy a piece of the river valley.

A first for me was seeing the new suspension bridge at Ft Edmonton Park. There were people down at the river’s edge and a few on-lookers along the foot-bridge who stopped to watch us as we sailed by.

Ah yes, and what would a paddle down the river be if one did not engage in a little splashing here and there...  but  in the end, it was I who got doused much to everyone’s delight! (They had the audacity to say I started it....but regardless of who splashed who, I enjoyed the trip and look forward to next year’s!)

Thanks to the Town of Devon for providing the transportation for all participants. Hope you enjoy  photos from our day on the river.
Rio St Germain
River Valley Alliance
Advisory Committee
Strathcona County

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Lunching on the Riverboat Queen

I had the pleasure of being able to ride the Edmonton Queen Riverboat for a work function last Friday. It could not have been a better way to spend a lunch hour! The sun was shining. The view was stunning! Lunch was great too. It was a traditional BBQ featuring the most delicious Red (skin-on) Potato Salad.
The trees look alive.

 Downtown skyline and the Edmonton Shaw Conference Centre. I'd love to come back for a Dinner Cruise one evening and see it lit-up.

Hey! Segway tours - and the new Green Cafe and the River Valley Adventure Co. 

 We were pretty jealous of these guys. It looked so refreshing.
 Walterdale Bridge and EPCOR Rossdale Power Plant. Big Plans are in the works here.

The tour showed views of Area 4 of the River Valley Alliance's Plan of Action. "The bustle of downtown urban life meets the quiet of the river valley." I experienced it firsthand! Given the choice I would have stayed on the Queen for the rest of the afternoon, but I did go back to work feeling rejuvenated.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

More June 11 River Valley Celebration Photos

The River Valley Alliance had a joint display tent set up in Voyageur Park for both Devon and Parkland County. This is Area 1 of our Plan of Action.
A great display showed off our vision of a 88-km park in the region. Pictured here are our hard working River Valley Alliance Advisory Board Members Lois Roper and Valerie Turner, as well as Valerie's daughter Marissa.
There were Parkland/Devon/Leduc rescue boat demos. Safety first!
Did you know that you can still pan for gold at Prospectors Point in Parkland County? Better believe it! But maybe don't quit your day job.
RVA Board of Directors Mayor John Whaley, Leduc County Councillor; Grant Geldart, Town of Devon Councillor; and Jo Szady, Parkland County stopped by for the celebrations.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Getting Out in the River Valley

On June 11th the River Valley Alliance held its first annual celebration of the river valley in five different municipalities across the Capital Region.  The event was simply intended as an occasion to encourage people to go explore and enjoy the park system. For Strathcona County we decided to hold an event in one of the region’s lesser-known parks, the Strathcona Science Park

Despite having some abandoned buildings and a bit of overgrowth, the 240-acre park has some of the nicest nature walks and views of the entire river valley. There are many species of birds and animals on display at all times and it is a great place to bring the dog or go for a nice, quiet walk.  
Since the park is not serviced, we called in some help from Strathcona County, the Parks Department and the Alberta Safety Council in order to have garbage collection, park access and power.  We also asked the Alberta Redneck Furry Fliers, River Valley Cycle and Airbender Custom Artistry to join us and set up displays. We thank them again for their time and effort.  The dogs were great!  
We had a number of visitors who had never been to the park and were amazed that such a large nature area existed so close to town. We also met some of the regulars who use the park for bike trips and bird watching.  Strathcona County Mayor Linda Osinchuk and Strathcona County Councillor Vic Bidzinski also paid us a visit. Both are big supporters of the River Valley Alliance and our Plan of Action. Overall, it was a positive event and a beautiful day to get out and explore the river valley. 

If you decide to visit the Science Park, it’s a little tricky to find. Access is on the 17th Street exit off of Highway 16, or you can take Petroleum Way if you’re coming from Sherwood Park.  It’s worth a visit with many interesting walks, and access to the fully-developed Rundle Park is right across the pedestrian bridge.  Go explore!

Mike Lush

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Founding the River Valley Alliance

Welcome to our first 'official' River Valley Alliance blog. It seemed fitting that our first blog provide a bit of background on the organization. As you can read on our website, "the River Valley Alliance came into existence in 1996 as a group of volunteers representing five Capital Region municipalities. They shared a vision of transforming an 88 km stretch of river valley into a world-class metropolitan river front integrated park."

With no doubt, this group had incredible foresight and passion to tackle such a bold vision; but who was instrumental in forming this alliance, and how did they go about achieving such an ambitious endeavour?

A few phone calls and coffee dates later, I was nudged in the direction of Brian W. L. Tod, a business lawyer and partner for the Edmonton office of Miller Thomson. When I told Brian that some of his colleagues credit him with being the first person to conceive of the idea of a united river valley park system he politely dismissed it.

"You might say I was one of the original advocates," he humbly explained.  In the early 90's, Brian was President of the Fort Edmonton Foundation, the volunteer funding arm of Fort Edmonton Park. During fundraising efforts he was challenged by fellow board member, Frans F. Slatter, to consider promoting Edmonton in broader terms.

"Well, I thought it was a heck of a good idea and started to run with it," Brian said.  While reading an Edmonton Journal poll that had readers rank the river valley as Edmonton's greatest asset, Brian had his ah-ha moment. Edmonton has the potential to further develop and link its river valley park system to as far as the communities of Fort Saskatchewan to Devon.

He quickly went to work developing an executive summary of the concept, which was passed along to friends and colleagues. One of these individuals was Gary Campbell, a local business man, who one day happened to be on the same flight as then City of Edmonton Mayor Bill Smith. He shared the summary with the Mayor who "really got it off the ground."

An ad hoc group of volunteers was formed that eventually included members from the seven municipalities of the Town of Devon, Parkland County, Leduc County, City of Edmonton, Strathcona County, Sturgeon County and the City of Fort Saskatchewan.

Like most grassroots movements, the Alliance had its growing pains, as Ray Rassmussen one of the original co-chairs explained - in a way only a retired university professor could. There was tension among the region's municipalities in the early 90's, fueled by pressures of population growth and a growing divide between urban and rural concerns.

"Those early years were fairly rough going but as momentum continued to grow, attitudes went out the window and people really got behind the concept," Ray recalled.

Ask Ray how the Alliance overcame those challenging initial years and he'll tell you it was the good will of all of the mayors, councillors and volunteers who believed in the potential of the project.

"I had worried that other issues would swamp these meetings but I came away impressed by the leadership of everyone involved. The RVA would not be what it is today without the hard work of people like Judy Duncan and others who worked hard to get buy-in from their communities." 

The theme of cooperation was universal in every conversation I had. I heard the same names over and over again. This never could have happened without ... Gabriele Barry, Maria David Evans, Barry Anderson, Ray Rassmussen, Judy Duncan, Jim Taylor, Sol Rolingher, Jacquie Fenske, Vern Hartwell, Brian Tod, Anne McLellan, Bruce Bentley, Mark Norris, Bill Smith, Bruce Wilson, the list goes on and on, and I am certain we are missing far too many.

Here we are over two decades later and a Capital Region River Valley Park has an ambitious Plan of Action with extraordinary potential. Not only can this generation take pride in this grassroots movement, but so too can the generations that follow.

To everyone involved, past and present, we are incredibly grateful.

Note: If you would like to read some interesting history behind the City of Edmonton's park system read this speech by RVA Advisory Board Chair Graham Hicks.

C. McPhee

Monday, January 17, 2011

Welcome to the River Valley Alliance Blog

Hello Blogosphere, 

The River Valley Alliance (RVA) is very excited to be reaching out to the online community. We are a group of passionate volunteers dedicated to creating a legacy - Alberta’s Capital Region River Valley Park.

Our Vision: “To create a continuous world class metropolitan river valley park, from Devon through Parkland County, Leduc County, Edmonton, Strathcona County, and Sturgeon County to Fort Saskatchewan.” 

This will be accomplished by protecting, preserving, and enhancing the Capital Region’s river valley park system for year round accessibility and enjoyment of its citizens and visitors. Visit our website to learn more. 

This blog was created to celebrate that vision. On behalf of the RVA, we hope you enjoy your time with us, but most importantly, we hope you get out and explore our amazing river valley for yourself.

Would you like to share your river valley experience? Connect with Crystal McPhee at for more info.