Visitors of Fish Creek Park will see many different things: Paved paths, dirt paths, animals, vegetation, and maybe bright orange fences.
The fences serve to rope off certain areas of the park to achieve what is called rewilding, or rather, riparian restoration. According to the Government of Alberta website riparian areas are lush, vegetation and soil beside water streams, rivers, etc. and are greatly influenced by the presence of water.
“(They) Are among the most productive and valuable of all landscape types,” states the Province of Alberta’s website.
Shana Barbour, Program Coordinator for Friends of Fish Creek Provincial Park, said these areas are at risk because park visitors who want to be near the creek will walk on these riparian areas. The land then becomes compact which means vegetation can’t grow and this causes increased erosion, she said.
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“There’s no plant roots to hold on to the banks of the creek, and so there’s more erosion and slumping into the water,” said Barbour.
“So it impacts water quality, it impacts habitats and potentially infrastructure in the park as well.”
How the restoration works
Roping off the area, said Barbour is just one step to rewilding.
Some areas of the land have gotten so compact over time that it’s nearly impossible to dig up, said Barbour, and nothing will grow there. So volunteers come in with heavy tools to break that land up, aerate it, and plant vegetation that would be native to the area.
A lot of the plants are small and require greater protection, said Barbour.
“So if you don’t fence it then people just go back to their favorite spots and trample things and then things just won’t have a chance to grow,” she said.
“We’ve noticed some really great success with our projects since we’ve been fencing them off, so I think that’s a pretty strong indicator that it’s an important thing to do,” said Barbour.
Barbour said they leave a few spots open to people so they can still enjoy their favourite spots by the river. The group initially didn’t fence off the rewilding areas, she said, but the restoration wasn’t as successful as they’d hoped.
Friends of Fish Creek, she said, aren’t happy with the orange fencing because they’re unattractive and needs to be replaced fairly regularly – about once every year or so. They’re hoping to find a better fencing system, but for now the orange gate does the trick.
Why the Fish Creek Park restoration matters
According to Barbour, the rewilding is important for a multitude of reasons. The biggest, she said, would most likely be water quality.
The more compact an area gets the more erosion there is and when there are high levels of erosion into water the quality decreases. Barbour said that erosion also creates a public safety issue because water banks become unstable and unsafe for park goers. All this erosion could also mean more taxpayer money being spent to fix park infrastructure.
Without the rewilding process, she said, fish in Fish Creek Park are also at risk.
“If you don’t have the shade from the poplar canopy and the bigger trees to keep the creek at a certain temperature, spawning won’t happen,” she said.
The Government of Alberta has published a guideline for setback/buffer areas to protect riparian land. Without these protections the risks are laid out in the guidebook as the following:
“Increase pollution within surface and groundwater. Increase the impact to communities during floods. Decrease bank stability, and increase erosion and sedimentation. Reduce habitat and biodiversity, and introduce invasive species. Eliminate existing aesthetic, recreational and social benefits,” states the guidebook.
The areas are expected to be roped off for three-to-five years. Barbour said Friends of Fish Creek leaves some sections open so park goers can still enjoy the river.