With spring just around the corner, March is a good month to continue exploring some of the beautiful natural areas in Central Alberta while the ground is still frozen. Areas that are too boggy or otherwise inaccessible during the warmer months of the year can still be enjoyably explored. As always, take all necessary safety precautions, especially along waterways. Spring looks like it will be early this year, so water may be running and/or the ice may be thinning earlier than usual.
If you don’t already have a copy of the Central Alberta Birding Trail Guide, I recommend you pick up a hard copy at Kerry Wood Nature Centre or check out the online version at https://birdingtrailsalberta.com. With spring just around the corner, now is a good time to start planning your spring outings. Of course, we also recommend checking out this website to find out about the many natural and protected areas are in your neighbourhood. Exploring our own backyard is a good way to reduce the cost of traveling AND enjoy the beautiful natural areas that we have here in central Alberta.
Three rural properties to explore in March:
Cow Lake – there are two Cow Lake Natural Areas, which together cover a combined area of 968 acres. The largest block is located along the north end of Cow Lake and is accessible from the main day use area/boat launch off Highway 752 west of Rocky Mountain House. There are no maintained trails, but access is fairly easy during the winter directly from the frozen lake. Three oil well sites, several cutlines and other old trails can also be used to park/explore this large tract of white spruce-dominated boreal forest.
The other block is very interesting, with several ridges, two small wetlands, a creek along the northeast corner, large aspen forests, large tracts of black spruce-tamarack forest, and a large low-lying area through the middle with a small creek and several abandoned but very large, impressive beaver dams. To access this block, take Twp Rd 384 west of the Cow Lake Store, then angle northwest until the road joins Twp Rd 385. Go west on Twp Rd to RR 85, which heads south to a dead end, then swings west again, ending at a large well site. We parked near the well site and then snowshoed along the small creek bed to the north edge of the property. However, during the spring, summer and fall, a better access point is at the north edge of the property. Park along RR 85 (marked by where the bush starts) and follow the north fenceline/ridge to the east, which will end near the abandoned beaverdams. The poplar and spruce-tamarack forests can be safely explored, but be especially careful along the creek, lowlands and around the beaver dams, even during the winter.
Mitchell Lake – this 46-acre site is located within Mitchell Lake Provincial Recreation Area. It is aerated during the winter and is a popular fishing spot. It has a parking lot and outhouses. It is aerated during the winter, so take the necessary precautions.
To access, go south on Highway 22, turn west on Twp Rd 380/375A, then south on RR 80.
Ironside Pond – this 34-acre site is a good spot if you’d like to explore an interesting frozen boreal forest lake and surrounding wetland. It is aerated in the winter, so take the necessary precautions. Otters have been observed around this pond (see pic of otter tracks below). There are two access points, one from a wellsite on the east side and the other, on the west side, which has a parking lot and a well-marked trail leading down to the pond.
To access follow directions to Mitchell Lake (above) but turn north instead of south at RR 80. Follow the signs.