My pal Captain and I headed North West to Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park as part of our first in a series of exploring Alberta Provincial Parks. This park was created to protect Big Lake from urban sprawl. It is a stopping point for over 230 species of migratory birds. I had often heard about Big Lake but could never figure out how to reach it without bushwacking. Now that its an Alberta Park, I knew it would be easily accessible. But I didn’t count on it being completely accessible! So if you have mobility issues or restrictions, this is the park for you.
The first thing I noticed was this was not a picnic or recreation park. It is intended as a bird sanctuary. It is a stopping point for birds as they migrate north. There have been over 235 species for birds recorded here. As someone who has an irrational fear of birds, I didn’t know what to expect. But I found watching the different birds peaceful. Who doesn’t need more peace in their life?
I am making an effort to be more mindful in my day. This means just being present and not thinking about the future or problems or even memories. The more I practice this, the more simple it becomes. During this walk I watched swallows dart around snatching up mosquitos. They are such an elegant bird and I understand why my grandfather wanted them in his yeard so badly. Their song is lovely and they keep the yard free of mosquitos. I saw a falcon, swallows, ducks, gulls, muskrat, beaver and other bird species I couldn’t identify.
I expected Cap to yank me off the boardwalk, as he had at Hermitage Park and at Elk Island, but this boardwalk doesn’t float. It feels permanent and sturdy so it was nice to stop and view birds or plant life.
There are different levels as well. The ducks didn’t event notice Cap and he left them be. At some points, we were quite close to the water. A few ponds were filled with duckweed and Cap thought it was grass to walk on. I had to pull him back a couple of times. My dog does not like bugs or being wet. He has turned into a city boy.
As we made our way off the boardwalk to the gravel path, we turned west toward Big Lake. The largest body of water at the provincial park.
Here is where I noticed the grey gravel path merged with a paved path. The paved path headed east along the water. Having never been here before I struck up a conversation with some people asking them of the paved path looped around back to the Provincial Park parking lot. That was a big NOPE. I was asked aren’t you from around here? Also a big NOPE. You see, Lois Hole was a St. Albert native. This park is located just west of St. Albert. You can follow the path into the city and walk along the Sturgeon River the entire length of the city.
I had been to St. Albert a few times, I have family here and I went to Hole’s Greenhouse long before Lois Hole was appointed the 15th Lieutenant Governor and that was where I met her for the first time. She was a lovely lady who hugged you as introduced yourself to her. She taught me about zinnias and calendula. She helped me with my ladybug conservation garden and warned me about the use of sprays in the garden. A few bugs and weeds never hurt anyone. Everyone who met her was enamoured with her. I think to name this park after Lois Hole was a lovely tribute.
Cap and I walked along the river until he complained of being tired. He was on his way to walking 8k that day. An hour with his papa bear and now an hour and a half with me. Poor little city boy. We turned back and he immediately went into hunting mode and smelled something in the bulrushes. Likely a nest of younglings. He was determined to drag me to the shore so he could snack, but I won and righted him back on the path. He listens to me well and usually protective. I have been feeling far dizzier than usual lately so he leans against me for support and he won’t tug on the lead. He will walk at a slower pace and is careful not to tangle my legs. He did that once and I fell hard. I layed on the ground for a while and he sat beside me waiting patiently for me to rise. That was the last time he did that. He does it regularly to my daughter and laughs the whole time. But to me, he is gentle now that I am older and less stable.
We eventually made it back to the car. This park does not have shade so keep that in mind as you go exploring. Protect yourself from mosquitos, bring water, watch for coyotes – their scat was around, and take time to stop and sit to watch the birds. This is a lovely place. It may have been my first visit but it won’t be my last.