Tuesday, 26 October 2010

My Park is My Life

We have a plague in our city, attacking the greenspace and grass, and eradicating it. It’s called “interlocking brickweed.”

There are a few great parks in the city, and my park – Rotary Park – ranks top of my favourites list. I used to try and define what it meant to be a “great park.” Included in the list: big trees, nice grass, lots of puppies, a nice playground, pretty to look at, and a place to kick a ball.

But a great park is more than just a list of the stuff in it. A great park has a great ambiance, and a place where simply walking into it, you somehow feel different. I feel that way when I enter the gates in Banff, or drive past the Spray Lakes Dam on Hwy 742, and I have never understood why.

Pearce Estate Park is another of my favourite city parks. Situated on the river, in a remote corner of Inglewood, it just strikes me as being a special place the moment I step out of my car. Interestingly, the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary just a little way away doesn’t have the same effect on me. Pearce has a wonderful riparian habitat, access to the weir, dramatic sweeps and turns in the bike path system, and a peaceful little stream running out of the fish hatchery. How unlike Rotary Park – and yet somehow they share the same feel for me.

Unfortunately, like many green spaces in the city, Rotary Park and Pearce Estate are under pressure from the deadly spreading interlocking brickweed.

Pearce estate was "improved" by the construction of a wetland, and is being further "improved" with a whitewater paddling channel around the weir. It's still a nice place, but the brickweed is invading.

I don’t know why, but our City seems to dislike greenspace – at least, greenspace in a natural setting. I remember when Prince’s Island was on my “favourites” list. Then the City “improved” it. The first improvement was to destroy the riverbank behind what was the Hard Rock CafĂ© and some condos, and pave it. This was subsequently “improved” even further with the aforementioned interlocking brickweed. Here was a lovely riparian riverbank in the heart of the city that was cut down. Then the City did the same on the island side, replacing part of what was grass with more brickweed and a big promenade. For a while, they twinned the bike paths on the south side, effectively and safely separating the joggers and bikers from the strollers and walkers. Then after turning some of that space into condos, they added yet more interlocking brickweed, putting everyone back on the same path. Then they tore out the east end of the island (which was ostensibly doing nothing to hurt anyone) and built a demonstration stormwater retention pond (which they freely admit in their signage doesn't handle much of the downtown runoff) and surrounded it with brickweed paths.

So Prince’s Island is choking in a sea of interlocking brickweed. That same deadly brickweed is spreading and can be found covering the greenspace in Olympic Plaza, Barclay Mall, around Lindsay Park, in areas of Riley Park, around the Louise Bridge, and numerous other greenspaces which are under pressure in our poor city.

So pervasive is the spread of the interlocking brickweed that I am no longer aware of greenspace in downtown yet to be affected. Lost in the last few years was that lovely spot of grass behind the courthouse. My favourite pocket park in the city – on 6th Ave in Bow Valley Square – was full of brickweed. Now it's gone, a construction zone.

Brickweed is bad. Having brickweed show up as an “improvement” means that old trees will be cut down to make space for new runty saplings to be planted. Take a look at the spread of brickweed east of Centre Street on the banks of the Bow. Mature trees? Gone! Pathway? "Upgrading" in progress!

Brickweed means your playground will be “upgraded” with less playground equipment, and buried in a sea of pea gravel.

I have played in my park for 20 years. I have written poetry because of swinging on the swings (no, you can’t hear it – and you should be thankful). I have met more puppies, seen more sunsets, watched more traffic, and showed off the view more times than I can remember.

A few years ago, you could tell the spread of brickweed was happening in my park. First, some red shale showed up. This actually seemed a good idea, as they finally created formal pathways where people walked anyway. Then they painted the stairs – a seemingly pointless proposition, since the paint lasted less than 2 years, the grafitti goons got it, and the stairs still need to be replaced. But that same year, the brickweed attacked the curling club area of Prince’s Island, and Crescent Heights West got a set of megasteps. Paint didn’t seem like a bad idea.

The curse of the brickweed then came in force in 1999. My daughter watched horrified as her favourite swings in the whole city were ripped out. Seven big swings were replaced by two little swings and a tire. The concrete sewer pipes, home to numerous hide and seek games, were torn out. Pea gravel replaced grass. Trees went bye-bye, including the big majestic one, biggest in the park, which shaded the pool. Other trees were given haircuts within an inch of their lives, and some suffered the ill effects for it. Trees were replaced by some poor “Charlie Brown Christmas Tree” saplings. Twenty plus years later, the trees are still runty nothings.

At the behest of my daughter, and because of my own indignation, I wrote and complained to the City. They said the swings were removed because they were painted with lead paint (Parents: How many of you let your kids chew on pipe? Those with your hands up, please get your heads examined). They said the sewer pipes were too dangerous. They said they cut the big tree because it was dying (it’s sure dead now, and while I am not a tree expert, it was one of the few trees in the park that really did appear healthy). They said we should be thankful we got the new playground equipment we did. They said pea gravel was safer than hard ground.

Ain’t brickweed grand?

Then more brickweed came to cover up more of my park. They built a fancy city overlook complete with placarded benches and a brickweed promenade. Well, I could see the city just fine right without an overlook. The overlook attracted the dreaded “traffic” to come see the view. It resulted in the eradication of some trees (amazing how those pesky trees get in the way of the view). At the time of the overlook development, we also got a fancy interlocking brickweed pathway to our interlocking brickweed overlook, eradicating even more grass and trees. It was lined with runty trees that are still runty after 10 years, and about of third of them are dead.

And I never understood why we needed an overlook anyway. Maybe it’s me – had anyone noticed there was already an overlook and proper parking on Crescent Road? In fact, there’s less parking at that overlook than there used to be, because residents there complained about 18 years ago that too may people were coming to look at the view.

Last week, they started tearing out the wading pool in my park. You know the one: it used to have the "Wonder Water Word" art installation painted on its bottom. Apparantly, the pool was (gasp!) dangerous. Thirty years ago, when I moved into the neighborhood, they filled and emptied the pool every few days. Then they started emptying the pool and refilling it every day. Then they started draining it at 4 PM. Now the pool is being removed and a water park with no standing water is being installed.

All because the current pool has no water filter. Now don't get me wrong -- pools should be sanitary. But I'm not aware of any kids who got sick from the pool in the last 30 years. The same way the swings were bad because they were painted with lead paint, we have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars upgrading the pool because the City desn't want to take on the liability from irresponsible parents. And with the "improved" water park will come more brickweed, I bet.

My park is dying under a sea of “improvements”, just like Prince’s Island died, and just like they are trying to kill off Pearce Estate. Brickweed is in Kananaskis, it’s in Banff – paradise is being paved. Here come the parking lots.

I like greenspace. It looks like the older I get, the farther I have to go to find it.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Three More Years


Three more years.

That’s how much more I have to put up with my annoying alderman, Druh Farrell.

All the way though last night’s election results tally, she was in a see-saw battle with Kevin Taylor, rarely more than 300 votes away from each other. When I finally went to bed, she was up by a scant 150 votes with 35 of 44 polls reporting. In the end she beat Mr. Taylor by 1,252 votes, or 11%.

So we get three more years of Druh. Three more years of $25 MM bridges we don’t need. Three more years of pointless projects like the reconstruction of the perfectly fine pathway along the Bow or the lighting of the Langevin Bridge justified by development of the East Village. Three more years of attempts to hold a pointless, directionless Bow River Flow “festival” on closed lanes of Memorial Drive. Three more years of the planning for the redevelopment of the Eau Claire Market that they didn’t develop right in the first place (because they’ll do it much better the second time than they did the first). Three more years of arguing to increase the number of dangerous traffic rule-ignoring cyclists on the roadways. Three more years of pushing HOV lanes that don’t work. These are just some of the projects Druh has championed.

What we won’t get is three years of good ideas as to what to do with Provincial infrastructure money instead of building unnecessary bridges. Three years of projects that actually could help improve the East Village instead of wasting electricity, paving paradise with interlocking brickweed and further contributing to light pollution. Three years of improving support for the existing slate of good city festivals. Three years of actual half-decent ideas about improving river access, instead of selling it off for high priced Condos. Three years of determining productive ways to improve transportation in the City that don't involve traffic calming or closing lanes.

It’s not that Druh hasn’t figured out the problem. It’s that Druh’s not part of the solution. Which in the end makes her part of the problem.

That, she hasn’t figured out.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Sunny & Cold on West Wind Pass

It was another one of those weeks that makes Calgary an interesting place to live. It was 24° and sunny Thursday, 4° and snow on Friday. That put a layer of snow up in the mountains, though admittedly not a very deep layer. Obviously, the snow fell all the way down to the valley floor, and the ACMG reports noted 2 cm in Canmore on Friday morning, with a forecast of a sunny but cold weekend. So our plan for was to sit out Saturday as a hiking day, let the sun do it's magic reducing the snow (at least down low), and hike Sunday.

Our version of "sitting out Saturday" was to go into Canmore for the Festival of Eagles. At this time of year, literally thousands of Golden Eagles migrate over the town (the official tracking station in the Kananaskis Valley has recorded over 2,000 since mid September). There were spotting scopes set up, though we didn't see anything. The town had also arranged for the Alberta Birds of Prey Foundation to bring in some birds, so we got to meet (and pet!) a Great Horned Owl, a Golden Eagle, a Burrowing Owl, a Kestrel and other very cool birds. Tragically, I did not bring my camera.

Meaning I also didn't get a photo with Ben Gadd, author of Canadian Rockies Geology Road Tours and other books, and since I didn't know he was going to be there, I also didn't bring my copy of any of his books to get an autograph. But I did get to chat with him for a few minutes. He's a very cool and nice guy.

The weather forecast did indeed hold, and today was brilliantly sunny and cool, -4° in the morning, and 2° by noon. So we headed to West Wind Pass, one of my favourite places to while away an afternoon. We haven't been up there since July 2009.

The trail is mostly on an exposed southern face, so was in general snow free and dry as a board as I expected.

Over the years I have been hiking this trail, there has been a general increase in the braiding of the trail, in most cases to avoid a 100 m section of trail that is on an exposed rockface. I have never found this section to be a problem; the rock is very textured and hard to slip on, and any really exposed bits have trees to grab on to.

Once at the top, the view into the West Wind Valley was great, as usual. West Wind Ridge is snow free, as is Pigeon Mountain, except for a very slight dusting at the top.

KC got me a new toy to take to Maui: A Kodak Playsport video camera that works underwater. So I decided to being it up here and practice with it.

It was, as usual, windy as all get out and only about 3° at the pass. In some ways, it looks pretty wintery up there.

Interestingly, at least a couple of folks appeared to have tackled the Windtower, based on footprints on the access trail.

We would have lingered longer up top, but even with toques, mits, 3 layers and bright sunshine, sticking around wasn't warm. Also, aside from the view (which is always worth gawking at), there wasn't much else up there. There were very few tracks in the snow (the odd rabbit and mouse sized footprints), but our total wildlife sightings today consisted of a squirrel, 3 robins and a crow. At least I saw a nuthatch and some chickadees in Dead Man's before we left.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Red Ridge: Yet another missing trail

I have always held high hopes for the Red Ridge trail, as it's an area of the Spray Valley I love. We drooled over the idea of getting up on the ridge when we saw it from below on the Sparrowhawk Tarns hike.

We were sadly disappointed, for the most part.

The biggest problem is there really is no trail, virtually right from the start. A very weak trail leaves the Spray Lakes day use area and is glued to the cliff edge on the left bank of the creek for it's length. Here's an example of how weak the trail is. It's on the left.

The trail is so awful and hugs cliff edges so much that in many cases it's actually easier to bush bash in the forest parallel to the trail and creek.

Gillean's guidebook says
"At the point where the creek bends right and the ground rises up ahead leave the trail and strike up the hillside"
The creek is never straight, and the ground is continually rising, so this isn't very helpful. The GemTrek map has the route marked, and so when we got to the grid reference where the trail was supposed to "strike off" (for a change my GPS was actually giving me good data), we started the first of our 4 "uphill" forays trying to find something that would lead us up the hill. Gillean says
"high up, interstect a game trail that gains the ridge at GR194429. Too far to the right and you hit a boulder slope"

We wasted 90 minutes rooting around for game trails, achieving nothing. We did a bunch of bush bashing, contouring the hillside at the 1850 m level (where the GemTrek map had the trail starting), and 1950 m hoping to run across something, to no avail. We were on the verge of giving up when we found the edge of the boulder field, and near it, a very weak trail-like thing that had obvious human presence (hiking pole holes and the odd boot print) and actually led uphill (note: As I have mentioned in the past, game trails tend to lead across slopes, not up them).

This trail lasted about 300 m and gained 200 vertical metres before dying out. My GPS said we were 200 m below and less than 500 m from the target grid reference, so we just started bush bashing up. We found the odd trail, but nothing lasted for more than 50-100 m till we were on our own again in dense bush (I have scars on my face, arms and legs to prove how dense it was, too) and a steep slope.

Here's a snapshot from Google Earth of our tracks, both up and down. The two deviations to the left into the trees are real and are our attempts at crosscutting the hill to look for trails. The wandering around on the left side of the creek before the final push uphill are also real, also time wasted looking for trails. All the junk on the right side of the creek is not real, just artifacts from my GPS.

Anyway, finally the grade leveled, the forest thinned and we popped out at the base of one whole lot of scree. Note the larches on the right. They were an important landmark, it turned out.

Gillean says:
Start up easily angled dinner plates covered in black lichen

I'm not sure I would use the phrase "easily angled". The were tough to clamber on, and hiking poles were essential for balance. Here's KC struggling up.

The first minor pitch of 30 vertical meters gets to a tree patch, then there's still 100 vertical meters of this stuff to cross. The larches in the centre right are where we popped out of the forest.

According to Gillean,
Next comes a grass and spruce section.
This section is steep but manageable, and offers some pretty stellar views towards Mt. Buller & down Spray Lakes, of Mt. Assiniboine & Mt Sparrowhawk and Read's Tower.

At this point, a bit of a trail actually forms. This is because you're naturally drifting to the left as the slope to the right is steeper. The trick is there's a cliff on the left. So people appear to get trapped against the cliff edge and follow it. And when I say cliff, I'm talking easily a 300 m drop, and in many places, you can look 1,000' straight down the gullies.

After this "spruce and grass" section which as some spruce but very little grass, offers a
steeper pull with optional scrambling.

according to Gillian. This is what you're supposed to climb:

and this is where you're supposed to climb it.

Well, by this time we had climbed 680 m and still had over 300 m to go, and it was already 2 PM, late not due to our start time but due to wasting an hour or more attempting to find the trail up. So we stopped here. Not a bad place to stop, but not quite the objective. How "not quite"? Well, here's Red Ridge on the left (with Mt. Bogart in the background on the right) taken from the Spray Lakes dam. See the bright V shaped notch in the middle? That's as far as we got.

Still, not a bad spot and reminiscent of the notch below Read's Tower. Certainly pretty views, including the basin behind Read's Tower and below Mt Sparrowhawk where we were about this time last year...

... and up Spray Lakes to the back of the Big Sister...

...into the Sparrowhawk Tarns basin (note: when we hiking into the basin a few weeks ago, we had lunch in the prominent rock in the left centre)...

...and the toe of the rock glacier under the flank of Mt. Buller.

We also saw 3 hikers down hiking the Sparrowhawk Tarns. Sadly, it looks to me like they only made it to the rockfall and didn't make it into the basin itself, which is tragic. The three hikers in the second photo are actually in the first picture, in the lower centre.

My camera really has a cool lens.

On the way down, we decided to look for a cairn or something where the scree slope met the forest that might indicate an actual trail back into the forest. From the GPS track above, you can see that we continued down on the edge of the scree a fair ways, occasionally seeing bootprints, but finding no kind of trail at all. We finally just started down into the bush, occasionally intersecting our track up, taking whatever short lived game trails we could find, and eventually made our way back to the creek, scratched and cut once again.

Several times on the way up and down we found bear poop, all of it bright red and full of berries. This pile was just off the trail right back at the road.

We talked to some folks who had gone for a walk into the closed Spray Lakes picnic area. They reported seeing numerous piles of fresh bear poop, too.

I won't be in a hurry to do Red Ridge again. The bush bashing sucks. The "trail" sucks. Clambering the scree up top sucks. If you want these views, do the Read's Tower circuit; while difficult, it's way more rewarding than this.

Disappointing, that.