Edmonton wants expanse of river valley designated as provincial park

Edmonton's mayor wants to see a major chunk of the North Saskatchewan River valley designated as an urban provincial park.

City council to discuss asking the province to include the Big Island-Woodbend area in a new park

These wetlands are part of a 400-hectare area known as the Big Island-Woodbend natural area. (Sierra Club Canada Foundation)

Edmonton's mayor wants to see a major chunk of the North Saskatchewan River valley designated as an urban provincial park.

The Big Island-Woodbend area covers more than 400 hectares, extending from Anthony Henday Drive in the southwest to the town of Devon.

"It really is a phenomenal area," Mayor Don Iveson said Friday. "The beauty that was there 100 years ago is still fully there."

The idea to have the area become a provincial park was first raised in early 2016, said Iveson.
As pictured on this map, the proposed park would cover about 400 hectares of river valley land. (City of Edmonton)

In recent months, the mayor's office has hosted meetings with officials from Parkland County, Enoch Cree Nation, Leduc County and the Town of Devon to gauge interest.

Informal talks with provincial officials have gone well, and now is the time to ask them to formally consider the idea, he said.

On Tuesday, city council will discuss sending a letter to the province with a request to designate the area a park, and asking the province to develop the concept.
'The beauty that was there 100 years ago, is still fully there, says Mayor Don Iveson. (CBC)

"The province has stronger tools than individual municipalities have to protect these special lands," said Iveson.

The North Saskatchewan River Valley Conservation Society has been working for years to protect the area.

It released a video in July 2013 as part of an effort to raise money to buy the land, which is mostly privately owned but can't be developed.

It estimated $25 million would be needed to purchase the land.

"The city has been crystal clear for decades that we have no plans to develop that as anything other than a park," he said.

The park would be protected from development but the idea would not be to "wall it off," the mayor said.

Big Island was the first "accidental beach" that Edmontonians flocked to a century ago, he said.

The new park would include accessible trails and perhaps a campground, Iveson said, comparing the vision to Fish Creek Provincial Park in Calgary.

That park extends 19 kilometres from east to west, making it the second largest urban park in Canada.

If the province moves ahead with the proposal, it will take two to five years before the new park becomes a reality, said Iveson.