Edmonton·The Henday Project

Beaumaris Lake revamp great news for wildlife

Biologists say $9.1-million upgrade to Beaumaris Lake is welcome news for wildlife.

Infrastructure around the lake is getting a $9.1-million upgrade

Dr. Cindy Paszkowski, emeritus professor of biology at the University of Alberta, says naturalized stormwater ponds like Beaumaris Lake are important connective sites for wildlife. (Tanara McLean/CBC)

When Paulina Retamales looks across Beaumaris Lake in north Edmonton, she sees a classroom.

"In our aquatics programs, we go to these human-made ponds and lakes within cities, because it's a place that children can actually learn about the ecosystems and the aquatic systems," said Retamales, the Wild Child project coordinator with Sierra Club Canada's prairie chapter.

Retamales' program uses urban wildlife pockets, like many of Edmonton's 230 stormwater management systems, to immerse children in nature.

"They're important locations for active exploration of the outdoors," she said. "If kids don't have access, they'll be looking at [nature] from far away and it's kind of saying, 'Go far away or to the mountains to learn about ecosystems.'"

Retamales believes Beaumaris Lake is an ideal area for city-dwellers to understand wildlife, and that understanding leads to a feeling of belonging to nature.

$9.1-million facelift underway

Beaumaris Lake is Edmonton's first and oldest stormwater pond facility. The lake was designed as a recreation area but residents haven't been able to access its various promenades, boardwalks and floating docks for years because the structures fell into disrepair.

This spring, the city started much-needed repairs to the area as part of the $9.1-million Beaumaris Lake open space rehabilitation project.

"An assessment was done in 2016 that showed [the lake] was in bad shape," said Samuel Malayang, City of Edmonton project manager for the Beaumaris Lake rehabilitation.

At the time, estimates to refurbish the lake came in between $5 million for short-term repairs and $35 million for a long-term plan.

Malayang said the rehabilitation will focus on updating the crumbling infrastructure. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, he said the project is on track to finish on time by next fall.

From stormwater pond to wildlife habitat

The lake is the final destination point for water collected in northwest Edmonton's network of smaller stormwater ponds.

Since it was built in 1977, the area has naturalized with shrubs, mature trees and water-dwelling plants, turning the catchment system into an engineered wetland within city limits.

The question that many people are asking is, 'can we better design human-made structures in cities so that they recreate wildlife habitat to offset habitat losses.-  Dr. Cindy Paszkowski

"The vegetation is key," said Dr. Cindy Paszkowski, professor emeritus of biology at the University of Alberta.

"The question that many people are asking is, 'Can we better design human-made structures in cities so that they recreate wildlife habitat to offset habitat losses?'"

A decade ago, Paszkowski was asked by the city to research biodiversity at Edmonton's various stormwater ponds.

Of the 70 sites surveyed, Paszkowski's team found amphibians in more than half of the ponds and 50 species of animals in total.

Many promenades and docks at Beaumaris Lake have been closed for years because of deteriorating infrastructure. (Tanara McLean/CBC)

Paszkowski said a wide variety of young waterfowl at Beaumaris Lake this summer indicates it's a successful nesting habitat. But she said not all stormwater ponds are created equal when it comes to wildlife use.

"Most of the animals that use the wetlands have to have some kind of terrestrial habitat," she said, adding that it's not uncommon to see mallards, Canada geese, American Coots or even pelicans in more naturalized stormwater ponds.

Paszkowski said stormwater ponds like Beaumaris are important connection points for animals to increase their numbers and keep their species going.

"Good wildlife habitat is what we call connectivity to other natural areas," Paszikowski said.

"When young animals disperse, they will travel between sites to find a new home … and that connectedness is very important."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tanara McLean is an award-winning producer and journalist based at CBC Edmonton. She grew up in Red Deer and has spent her entire career in Alberta, working in print, radio and television.

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