Andrew Yule lives on a ridge overlooking Nose Creek in Calgary, Alberta. When neighbours passed around a flyer expressing concern about a new road that would connect with the Stoney Trail, he started paying more attention to the land below his house. “It was like a rock in my shoe,” Andrew says. “I started learning about the creek and had to share what I’d learned. It was uncomfortable to sit still.” The result is Save Nose Creek, a community-led initiative to provide the valley with an official park designation and prevent industrial over-development. Save Nose Creek is focusing its activities in 4 main areas: biodiversity, watershed, history, and community green space.
The Nose Creek valley is home to a wide diversity of wildlife from minks and great blue herons to porcupine, moose, and pronghorn. “There’s no safe way through the Nose Creek valley,” Andrew says. Parts of the valley are open with a pathway from the Bow River to the Beddington Trail and up to West Nose Creek, but the remainder of the valley is barricaded in by roads as the developers built big berms rather than a bridge, cutting off an important corridor for people and wildlife. Raising main roads such as Country Hills Boulevard and 128 Avenue up and over the valley would allow wildlife to travel through the valley and residents could bike all the way downtown.
Nose Creek originates near the northern boundary of Rocky View County and the town of Crossfield, passing through Airdrie and several other communities in northwest Calgary before funneling into the Bow River. At times the creek is as wide as a bus. Left to its own devices, it would meander slowly through the valley. But the creek continues to be shaped by urban development into a tight channel, putting communities lower down the creek at risk of flooding. “We assume creeks are stagnant, but they change their shape all the time,” Andrew says. “We can’t force them.”
Calgary is part of the Nose Creek Watershed Partnership. Water monitoring programs indicate that the overall water quality has improved to “fair”, but phosphorus and nitrogen levels are “poor”. Provincial guidelines have established a 30-metre setback along the creek to protect the watershed, but Andrew doesn’t believe this is adequate. A wider setback would provide the green belt needed for a park as well as a wildlife corridor.
The Watershed Partnership had hoped to introduce the Parkland Riparian Setback Matrix Model but could not reach unanimous agreement. Rather than relying on an arbitrary setback, the matrix model takes into consideration vegetation, slope, groundwater risk/susceptibility, and adjacent land use to create an environmental reserve that acts as a buffer between developed/developable land and environmentally sensitive areas such as lakes, rivers, streams, creeks, and wetlands.
The town of Airdrie has made the creek a focal point of their community. They have developed a 20-acre regional park around the creek and established the Nose Creek Valley Museum showcasing the history of Airdrie, Nose Creek, and surrounding areas. Rather than channeling the creek and setting tight parameters, Airdrie has opened up the creek to form a marshy area where beavers have begun building a dam. They are interested in establishing a bike path along the creek from Airdrie to Calgary.
Airdrie’s Williamstown Nose Creek Preserve was developed following the riparian setback matrix model. It factored in floodplain, meander width, and other factors to provide Nose Creek with an adequate setback. This has resulted in a green belt that the Save Nose Creek initiative would like to see enacted along the entire length of Nose Creek.
Whereas Fish Creek Provincial Park is significant for settler history, Nose Creek is rich in First Nations sites. For centuries, First Nations people travelled from Mexico to Alaska along the Old North Trail which follows Nose Creek for most of its length. The wagon trail leading to Fort Calgary passes through the Nose Creek valley and was an essential transportation link in the past.
The Balzac archaeological site north of Stoney Trail is a pre-historic bison processing site. Additional cultural sites include pre-historic campsites, teepee rings, and a buffalo jump. All these sites are at risk of further industrial development.
Community Green Space
Calgary does not compare well with other large urban centres. According to the 2022 Urban Greenness Report from Statistics Canada, Calgary has 37.6% green space, much lower than Montreal (69.3%), Vancouver (68.2%), Toronto (61.2%), and Edmonton (51.1%). Calgary has also experienced the greatest loss of green space (-16.5%) in the past 15 years compared to the other centres.
For many communities in north-central Calgary, the Nose Creek valley is their only green space and many people use it for hiking, birdwatching, and playing. With relatively few lights, the area also provides an ideal opportunity to establish an urban star park similar to Cattle Point Urban Star Park in Greater Victoria.
The Stoney Industrial Area Structure Plan was passed by Calgary City Council in 2005 despite opposition from members of the public, city administration, and the councillor for the area. The committee hopes to identify a government champion who will help them move the discussion away from industrial overdevelopment and towards greater community green space.
Save Nose Creek’s initial goal is to see the area set aside as a municipal park. Once that happens, the municipalities can work together to create a regional or national park that stretches from Calgary to Airdrie. “If handled correctly, it can benefit everybody,” Andrew says, “from developers to municipalities to wetlands.”
Photo credits: Andrew Yule (valley), Micheal Anderson (heron)
Save Nose Creek (website)
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