Nature lovers can explore area east of Edmonton that’s ‘teeming with wildlife’ in 2019

Original from Global News

By Phil Heidenreich

Global News

December 24, 2018 at 10:53 a.m.

WATCH ABOVE: The Smith Blackburn Homestead will become the latest area that the Edmonton and Area Land Trust provides to nature lovers thanks to someone with a strong connection to the land donating it to them.

A charity that works to conserve natural areas in the Edmonton area says it expects to provide nature lovers with an exciting new place to visit that is “teeming with wildlife” sometime in 2019.

The Smith Blackburn Homestead will become the latest area that the Edmonton and Area Land Trust (EALT) provides to nature lovers thanks to someone with a strong connection to the land donating it to them.

“This land was donated to us by a local woman,” says Rebecca Ellis, conservation manager at the EALT. “It was her great-grandmother who came to this land in the early 1900s.

“They soon discovered it isn’t great for farming but it is really great for nature preservation.”

According to Ellis, the donor’s great-grandmother originally found arrowheads there that are believed to have been used on the land by Indigenous people many generations ago.

[The woman who donated the land] spent a lot of time here in her youth and formed a great connection to nature.
— Rebecca Ellis

“When she found out a few years ago that it was up for sale again, she wanted to be able to give back to people and so she bought the land and donated it to us in memory of her late husband.”

The donor, named only as Donna, says her late husband “would be pleased that it (the land) is being preserved so that present and future generations can walk here to learn the lessons of nature and experience the solace and inspiration that it affords.”

Watch below: (From Dec. 16, 2018) Pam Wight with the Edmonton and Area Land Trust discusses the organization’s latest land acquisition and what it means for the area, including Elk Island National Park.

The EALT’s 80 acres of newly-acquired wilderness features topography like hummocky moraine, according to the organization.

“We’re in what’s called the Cooking Lake Moraine,” Ellis says. “It holds a great diversity of wildlife.

“There are loons here, lots of other waterfowl as well, dozens of species of birds, there’s deer, moose, even black bear, and we’re very close to Elk Island National Park and so by conserving this small piece, we’re helping to form a wider network of protected areas in the Beaver Hills area.”

The Beaver Hills area refers to the Beaver Hills UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. It’s a 1,600-square-kilometre stretch of boreal forest and wetlands.

In 2016, the Beaver Hills area was one of two regions in Canada recognized by the United Nations agency for their effectiveness in simultaneously addressing both environmental and economic concerns. At the time, the Alberta region was welcomed into UNESCO’s World Network of Biosphere Reserves along with Great Bear Lake in the Northwest Territories

READ MORE: UNESCO-recognized area east of Edmonton opens ‘biodiversity trail’

“Having the UNESCO label… recognizes that this area in Alberta is very important,” Ellis says. “Not just this land itself, but all of the other conservation areas owned by us in this region and other similar organizations, as well as Elk Island National Park and some of the provincial protected areas that are found in this region.

“It just recognizes all of them as a whole as being internationally important for wildlife.”

The Smith Blackburn Homestead is a “vital component of freshwater health for the region,” according to the EALT.

The organization says it provides wetland breeding grounds for many species of North American waterfowl.

The land is rich with aspen and poplar forest and, beneath the forest’s main canopy, there is a layer of vegetation that includes raspberry, Saskatoon and rosebush.

View photos of the Smith Blackburn Homestead land in the gallery below.

The Smith Blackburn Homestead will become the latest area that the Edmonton and Area Land Trust provides to nature lovers

Cam Cook/ Global News

The donated land brings the EALT’s amount of conserved land to 2,240 acres across 12 locations in and around Edmonton.

READ MORE: Unspoiled, ‘tremendously special’ forest at west edge of Edmonton to open to public

“Edmonton is growing very quickly and so these places are under threat,” Ellis says. “Some are better suited to development than others.

“We are conserving places like this to ensure that natural spaces are conserved for the benefits that they provide to us and also for wildlife habitat.”

Once the area is ready for visitors, people can drop in to the Smith Blackburn Homestead on a whim; no pass is required.

“We hope to have it open to the public sometime in summer or fall of next year,” Ellis says. “There is already a system of trails here that was here already, so we just need to do a few improvements to those trails, put up a few signs so people know where to go and then it will be ready for the public to come out and explore.

“[They can go] hiking, bird watching, even snowshoeing in the wintertime.”

Ellis says a Grade 4 class from Edmonton has already helped with improvements to the land, setting up a couple dozen nestboxes. Volunteers have also put up a pair of batboxes.

“These batboxes can hold a couple hundred of the endangered little brown bat that is found in our area,” she says.

The EALT will now preserve the land in perpetuity.

Ellis says anyone interested in helping the organization with its land conservation endeavours can best do so by volunteering with them or just by spreading word about what they are trying to do.

Financial donations are also very helpful, she says.

“We’re a charity and so we rely on donations from individuals to do a lot of what we do. You can do that by visiting our website (ealt.ca).”

The Smith Blackburn Homestead is located about 60 kilometres outside of Edmonton.