Local Wayfinding

We often joke with the running crew that among the group a few of us seem to have GPS chips in our brains: we’re really good at find routes and getting un-lost.

But for those less gifted in the skillful navigation of unmarked paths, finding one’s way through the trails and wild spaces of the city can be a unique challenge and intimidating enough that some might choose to stay home rather than attempt it.

This is why I’ve been delighted to see some new wayfinding signs appear on the paths near my house.

Just a few weeks ago we ran by some concrete footings that were being installed for these new trail markers. I went for a walk this morning and a new trail marker with some basic navigation and trail information had been installed.

Clear maps.

Simple icons.

Distances and destinations.

Signs like these make it more clear that these spaces are meant to be explored and enjoyed, a symbol that is not always clear to everyone who lives here. Some people may be intimidated by the ribbon of asphalt that disappears into the trees. Still others may be newcomers to the city or even the country and not understand that trails like these are meant for all to enjoy.

Wayfinding serves many purposes, but even for those of us who have built-in navigation instincts, they make these natural recreational spaces easier to enjoy when everyone can enjoy them together.

Beaver Watchers

We run hills on Wednesday evening, and in a prairie city full of creeks and a river valley, the only proper hills are where the roads and paths cross the water.

It is not surprising then that our hill training brings us close up to nature, the bottom of our training hill being a bridge that crosses one of those creeks.

The creeks are still a little frozen, but nature never really stops working.

Last night we paused our multiple running repeats to watch this big guy, a beaver, paddling around the murky thaw of a spring creek still partially iced.

This is the same creek where in the winter we did a small snowshoeing adventure.

It’s amazing to me though, how even for people who routinely encounter nature on our runs, crossing paths with the likes of anything from birds, squirrels and hare to more substantial critters like coyotes and moose, we’ll all just stop what we’re doing to spend a few minutes admiring a lonely beaver in a creek.

Nature captivates… or at least you know you hang out with the right people when you are all captivated by similar things.

The Mystery of Big Island (Part One)

I had other writing plans this morning, but a mystery has been unravelling in my own backyard that has piqued and diverted my interest for an upcoming summer of potential exploration.

Backstory.

I live near the mighty North Saskatchewan River, a twelve hundred and eighty-seven kilometer long ribbon of glacial water that flows, stretches and merges with it’s sister as it’s waters drip off the glaciers of the Rocky Mountains and eventually drain in the Hudson’s Bay.

I can walk a mere thirty minutes from my house and dip my feet in it’s brown hued muddy waters and I often do…. though the wet-feet part is not always on purpose.

I took this photo from a footbridge suspended under a highway river crossing. The city’s ring road cuts across the river twice, and this bridge located in the southwest is one of those spots. The bridge also marks an interesting point in the city’s remarkable river valley parks system: the south-side edge of where it is uniformly accessible. Behind me in this shot is a network of maintained asphalt trails, benches, waste bins, signage, and friendly fellow residents enjoying the the park system.

Ahead of me, in the trees pictured, the trails look more like this second photo:

Much of this is a mix of crown land and private property, often merging and tripping over each other in unclear boundaries. I’ve walked and run through there a few times.

It’s as close to local bushwhacking adventure as I can get on foot and still be home for lunch.

Big Island.

Go back to look at that first photo.

The wedge of trees that seems to slice across the river (where the river actually bends South a bit) is a piece of land that is called Big Island and apparently has something of a local history. You can also read more about it at citymuseumedmonton.ca.

The green arrow highlights the view of the photo from the bridge I had referenced earlier.

I fully admit, I’ve been curious about these parts, and have wandered through the woods with my cameras (particularly through those trails on either side of the arrow I’ve drawn on the map) looking for something interesting.

However, renewed local chatter in the last few days that our provincial government may be working to designate Big Island as a protected provincial recreation area has me digging deeper into this mystery: the Mystery of Big Island (and why after fifteen years living so close I have never gone to check it out!)

I think I might officially have a summer exploration project. Visit. Take some photos. Learn more about this amazing local treasure that has been hiding right under my nose.

Stay tuned!