Late in 2014, Hanna-area farmer, Gottlob Schmidt, known as “Schmitty”, became a celebrity of sorts after it was announced he had donated of 940 acres (380 hectares) of his own land to be established as Antelope Hill Provincial Park. Situated on undisturbed native grassland, Antelope Hill is not yet open to the public, as Mr. Schmidt still resides there, part-time anyway, on the farm his family has owned since 1933. However, at some point in the future the park will be opened, with opportunities for low-impact day-use being made available to the public, including hiking, nature appreciation and wildlife viewing.
The announcement is significant, not only because of Schmitty’s uncommon foresight and generosity; but also because Antelope Hill is the first provincial park to be created in southeastern Alberta in almost 50 years, the last being Tillebrook (between Tilley and Brooks) in 1965.
In fact, within the southeastern corner of the province, there are only four provincial parks: Cypress Hills (est. 1951), Kinbrook Island (est. 1951), Dinosaur (est. 1955) and the aforementioned Tillebrook. Considering the are over 70 parks province-wide, well, you do the math.
For Albertans seeking recreational opportunities, several municipalities have established parks and campgrounds in the drybelt: Forty Mile, Emerson Bridge and Blood Indian immediately come to mind. There are also about 100 million acres of public land (dubbed “Green Areas”) within the province, the majority of it a considerable distance north of Edmonton. For we leisure-starved southerners, there are several Public Land Use Zones (PLUZ) we can access, mostly clustered alongside the Rocky Mountains in the form of Provincial Parks, Recreation Areas, Wilderness Areas, Ecological Reserves, Natural Areas and Heritage Rangelands. If the mountains and foothills are your thing, then you’re all set. However, for most Albertans outside of the QEII corridor, an excursion to the mountains constitutes more than a day trip. And as we collectively seem to forget sometimes, when it comes to parks and recreation, Alberta is more than just mountains.
We also shouldn’t forget about the more than five million acres of public land leased for agricultural purposes, including 32 provincial grazing reserves. While agricultural leaseholders are required to provide access to the land, they can for a variety of reasons restrict or refuse access to the public, in particular if they deem the public harmful to the land, livestock or crops. There are also a number of regulations that must be adhered to. Most are common sense, but maybe not ideal for the farmer or rancher who doesn’t wish to double as a park ranger; or for city / town / village folk looking for a casual commute and commune with nature.
There is no shortage of grassland and uninhabited open spaces in southeastern Alberta. A great deal of it is “undisturbed”, having never been cultivated by settlers. These areas offer both a scenic and spiritual experience for anyone who takes the time to visit. Surely I’m not the only one who is recharged by spending a day on the open range, bathed in invigorating sunlight, enveloped by the warm, gentle (or not-so gentle) breeze, serenaded by chirping gophers, musical meadowlarks and the signature shriek of the rail-tailed hawk.
Schmitty’s gift made me think: it would be nice if more of our open grassland was set-aside to be enjoyed.
Perhaps the place to initiate discussion would be the Vulcan County & County of Newell Intermunicipal Development Plan. Within the document are details of a draft plan being prepared by the province called the Majorville Heritage Landscape Management Plan. Consultation surrounding the Majorville plan has apparently been taking place since as early as 2012, and according to the IMDP draft document, a framework has been released by the government for review by First Nations and stakeholders, and is anticipated to be completed by the end of 2015. I have more than a passing interest in this process, having spent my early childhood down the lease road from the site in question, where my immediate family continues to farm to this day.
Supporting documentation (below) illustrates that approximately 23,000 acres of mostly public land surrounding the Medicine Wheel site has been included within the Majorville Heritage Landscape Management Plan area (the green area in the above illustration). This area includes the Majorville Cairn and Medicine Wheel, which was designated a Provincial Historic Resource in 1979.
— County of Newell (@CountyofNewell) February 23, 2015
Dubbed “Canada’s Stonehenge” by author, Gordon Freeman, the Majorville Cairn is a place of great cultural significance to the Blackfoot people of southern Alberta. According to a Blood Tribe Council publication from 2012, ‘TSINIKSSINI’, a large number of archaeological sites surround the Medicine Wheel, the vast majority of which are stone arrangements established by indigenous people who occupied this area during the last five millennia:
“To the east of the medicine wheel, along the western bank of the Bow River, lies “bacculite beach.” Blackfoot people have been collecting ammonite shell fragments at this fossil graveyard for many centuries. These ammonite (marine life) fossil segments, which are known as iniskim (or buffalo calling stones) to the Blackfoot, bear a resemblance to the shape of the plains bison and continue to be used in traditional Blackfoot ceremonies.”
As the IDP document states:
“The combination of existing cultural features, the Majorville Cairn and Medicine Wheel, and the unique biophysical resources associated with the planning area has led to the recommendation to establish a new landscape management unit and subsequent preparation of a management plan.”
With both the Vulcan-Newell, and Majorville Plans intending to propose “management regimes” for the area, perhaps this is a good time to suggest the adoption of a public land use zone that would protect this environmentally and culturally sensitive area, while making a valuable historical and cultural resource accessible to the public.
Maybe something like a Provincial Park?
I’m sure it’s been done before.
- Sentinel Trees provide a glimpse into the past
- Our journey to the beautiful, boring, bowl-shaped structure of Bow City (Kinnondale)
- Drought and desolation erased Kinnondale from the map
- Taylor Cemetery: “Consecrated, set apart, and dedicated forever.”
- Bow City – The village born unlucky
- Prairie Post: Former Bow City site to get a heritage marker