FINDING JOY IN JANUARY! January is a difficult time of year for many people. The bustle of the holiday season has come and gone, the dark and cold of winter still envelopes us, and the return to everyday realities can be challenging.
One of the best ways to cure the January blues is to enjoy nature! Getting outside and being immersed nature supports our physical, spiritual and mental well being, especially at this time of year. Even short walks around our neighbourhoods and through local parks can refresh and invigorate. Fortunately, those of us living in Central Alberta are lucky to have many natural and protected areas right at our own backdoor! There are about 170 different properties that await discovery, all within a one-hour drive of Red Deer!
There are many advantages to exploring these beautiful little pieces of paradise in the winter. There are no mosquitos, the areas are usually beautifully quiet, and frozen wetlands can be easily navigated on foot, skis or snowshoes. Although there are fewer bird species around in the winter, it is great fun to follow wildlife tracks and read nature stories in the snow.
How about spending some time in January checking out a few protected areas in the western boreal and mixed-wood forests? Depending on the weather and your level of fitness, they can all be explored in one day.
Three Rural Properties to Explore in January
1. Raven Ridge: This 300-acre site is located approximately 44 km west of Red Deer. The area is easily accessed from the south along Twp Rd 354 (do not block the lease road gate). The site is dominated by spruce and aspen with a large wetland along the southwest boundary. A network of locally maintained cross-country ski trails make exploring this site easy in any season (if you are walking or snowshoeing, please do not walk on the ski tracks). https://www.albertadiscoverguide.com/site.cfm?grid=E3&number=171
2. Drake Conservation Site: This 133-acre site is located alongside Highway 54, approximately 14 km east of Caroline. It is located adjacent to the Porter property (see below). To access, park on the north side of the road, in the parking lot of the Raven Log Church and enter the property over a style. You can also park in a small parking lot at the end of Range Rd 44. The south entrance is usually inaccessible during the winter. The Raven River meanders (it remains open in spots, so be careful) through a mature mixed spruce and aspen forest. https://www.albertadiscoverguide.com/site.cfm?grid=E3&number=165
3. Porter Conservation Site: This 155-acre site is located next to the Drake property (see above). There are three access points: one along Highway 54 and two along RR 45. It is similar to the Darke property, with spruce and aspen forests bisected by the Raven River meandering through 2 km of the site. on private property. https://www.albertadiscoverguide.com/site.cfm?grid=E3&number=170
Note: Be sure to bring maps, a GPS and/or have a mapping program on your phone. Travel with a partner, let others know of your plans, dress appropriately, be especially careful when walking on or near moving water, carry pepper spray (cougars, although unlikely to cause issues, are active in the winter) and follow relevant wilderness safety protocols. If possible, submit all your bird sightings to eBird. If you spot anything unusual or amiss, please email email@example.com
There are many other protected properties scattered throughout Central Alberta. They are itemized on this website, categorized by their distance from Red Deer. Enjoy!
IMAGE ABOVE: Shaye Hill, 2021 RDRN Naturalist In Residence enjoys a January ramble through the Drake and Porter properties. IMAGE BELOW: Jim Potter checks out the ice thickness on the Raven River. Caution is advised when walking on rivers and creeks.
DECOMPRESSING IN DECEMBER!
December is a hectic season, with joy, stress, excitement and pressure all jumbled into our already busy schedules. One of the most effective ways to decompress and be rejuvenated is to get out in nature. Fortunately for those of us living in Central Alberta, nature is literally at our doorstep. Walking trails thread through the City of Red Deer and surrounding smaller towns, the Great Trail links several communities, and there are many local rural protected properties that can be enjoyed.
There are a total of 169 protected properties within 100 km of Red Deer, all listed here on this website. We have chosen three that we feel will be especially interesting to explore in December. The Cliff and Mary Soper Natural area is readily accessible and has facilities (e.g., outhouses, walking trails, signage) while the other two are a bit more challenging.
Three Rural Properties to Explore in December
HABITAT STEWARD PROGRAM TO BE RELAUNCHED.
The Red Deer River Naturalists (RDRN) are pleased to announce that the Habitat Steward program is being relaunched. The Habitat Steward program, which was first implemented by RDRN in the late 1980s, recognizes landowners who conserve at least 2 Ha (5 acres) of wildlife habitat on their property. Under the program, Habitat Stewards receive a gate sign to recognize their efforts.
The Habitat Steward program seeks to both publicly acknowledge the efforts of private stewards to conserve habitat and to highlight the intrinsic value of habitat conservation on private lands. There are no legal obligations, access expectations or other requirements. Stewards who would rather not have a gate sign are still encouraged to join the program.
The 2021-2022 relaunch will encompass an area within 100 km of the City of Red Deer. Additional information and an application form will be posted soon.
For more information, please email Myrna Pearman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Myrna Pearman
November is not usually considered a prime month for exploring our nearby wildlands. However, the mild fall has resulted in some larger water bodies remaining open longer than usual, attracting record numbers of swans and other waterfowl. An exceptional viewing opportunity has been enjoyed by many birders at Erskine Lake, south of Erskine. This lake and other nearby wetlands have been designated as a national Important Bird and Biodiversity Area.
November is hunting season in Central Alberta, but there are still many no-hunting protected areas within about an hour’s drive of Red Deer. With a few exceptions, hunting is not allowed in Provincial Parks or Provincial Recreation Areas. Check their website for complete details. The trails in these protected areas are usually quiet at this time of year, so why not get out and explore them, either on foot or bicycle-Dry Island Provincial Park, Red Lodge Provincial Park, Pigeon Lake Provincial Park, Rochon Sands Provincial Park, Jarvis Bay Provincial Park, Crimson Lake Provincial Park, Glennifer Reservoir Provincial Recreation Area and The Narrows Provincial Recreation Area.
Lacombe County has a number of excellent and accessible areas to explore, including Kuhnen Natural Area, Kuhnen Park, JJ Collett Natural Area, the NOVA Chemical Community Nature Trail and the Soper Natural Area. Details about these areas can be found here. Fortunately, Canada’s Great Trail passes through Central Alberta and is readily accessible for both walkers and cyclists.
While hunting is allowed on most other protected areas, there are three local Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) properties that do not allow hunting: Boote, Fyten Lea and Pope. Access to these properties needs to be booked through their connect2nature online booking system. Other non-hunting protected areas that can be enjoyed during November include Warren, Ponoka Hospital Lands and the Alix Nature Trail.
Last but not least, get a copy of the Red Deer River Naturalist’s very popular Birding Trail Guide. Hard copies are available at Kerry Wood Nature Centre, or you can download them here.
Once hunting season is over, many of the 160+ protected areas within 100 km of Red Deer can be enjoyed on foot, skis or snowshoes. Check out this website for a complete listing of the protected gems—right in our own backyard—that await discovery!