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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.