Getting to know the plants on the trail

Alberta Agriculture calls them range plants—”the native and introduced plant species” in the rangelands, including “grasses, sedges, forbs (e.g. weeds and flowers), shrubs and even trees.” In a recently updated report, the department explains that “[r]angelands provide an important source of forages for domestic and native animals as well as protection to the soil and watersheds.”

The report lists more than 250 species with their common names, latin names,  origin (native or introduced), “grazing response”, and forage value. Grazing response is the reaction a species has to continuous defoliation, i.e. grazing and damage from being trampled on.

Early blue violet
Early blue violet: junk food of the pasture?

We encounter range plants all the time on the Waskahegan Trail. To those of us who are plant lovers (and there are a lot of us) the report is fascinating reading. Did you know that the young leaves of the chokecherry are poisonous to the foraging animals? Or that the early blue violet, which looks so delicious, is nutritionally poor?

The Secret Dark Side of the Waskahegan Trail

The Waskahegan Trail presents unique opportunities for us to surround ourselves in trees, flowers, wildlife, and interesting geological formations, all within an hour’s drive at the most. You may even be one of those people who enjoy rising early to take in a hike.

It might surprise you to know about another unique environment available to us—after sunset!

Here in our area we have an almost rare opportunity to easily observe stars and planets on any clear evening. The Beaver Hills area is one of just thirteen areas in Canada designated as a Dark Sky Preserve. This designation by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) means it is “an area in which no artificial lighting is visible and active measures are in place to educate and promote the reduction of light pollution to the public and nearby municipalities.” The Beaver Hills Dark Sky Preserve covers all of Elk Island Park and the entire Beaver Hills area, including the Blackfoot Recreational Area.

We are grateful to WTA member Rod Wasylishen for informing us that the RASC Edmonton Centre has a special viewing site at the Blackfoot Staging Area  (travel southeast of the Ukrainian Village from Highway #16 east of Edmonton, or see page 89 of the Waskahegan Trail Guide Book).

On weekends closest to New Moon, you will likely encounter RASC members at the site, personally observing with their own equipment. If you decide to go, please visit their main dark site page first and pay close attention to etiquette. It takes half an hour to get eyes fully dark adapted. If you come in with headlights on, or start snapping selfies, you will not be welcome.

If you are not comfortable with driving without headlights and the other etiquette guidelines, remember that the Dark Sky Preserve is a huge area. As Rod notes, “One can go anywhere in Elk Island Park or the Cooking Lake Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area for much better viewing conditions than we have in the city.”

If you end up visiting this rare secret world of night sky viewing, send us a comment. We’d love to hear about it.