The Kimiwan Birdwalk Interpretive Centre in McLennan held its annual End of Season Barbeque on August 25, celebrating the conclusion of another year.
“We had a very successful year with over 3,000 people coming through as we have seen a return of American tourists, which is good for the economy,” says Mark Heckbert, President of the Kimiwan Lake Naturalists.
“We are right on the main travel route up to Alaska and a lot of those folks stop here for a break and do a little birding.”
While for most people the trip to Alaska is a once in a life time venture there are also keen birders who make a special trip to the region every year, as it is on the circuit of birding spots in northwestern Alberta.
Heckbert, also contributes part of this season’s success to the staff.
“We had excellent staff. This was Jenny Dupuis, third summer here but she is going into her last year of university so she is off to other endeavours,” he says. “Megan McNeil, this is her second summer and we would love to have her back and Hailey Lambert who worked her first summer in the Railway Museum.
Heckbert described the place as being on auto pilot this year.
“It was just super. It is so nice to have that level of service,” he says.
Speaking of the O’Mahony Conservation Area, Heckbert points out that they have just finished their first 5-year contract with Alberta Parks, which allows Kimiwan Naturalists to maintain the infrastructure in the area.
The O’Mahony Conservation Area consists of 900 acres and has over 12 kilometers of developed, self-guided, interpretive walking trails.
The entire trail system tracts reasonably flat terrain and has constructed bridges over wet, marshy areas.
Through spring, summer and fall the conservation area offers maintained walking trails and in the winter, the trails are groomed for cross-country skiing.
“Alberta Parks are very happy with what we have done in there and we are now in the process of a second five-year agreement,” says Heckbert.
The agreement with Alberta Parks stipulates that a reasonable trail network must be available for people of all ages and abilities. The O’Mahony Conservation Area keeps a well-groomed 2.5 km Owl trail that is ready for anybody at any time and for those who want a longer walk there are the 9 kilometers of maintained trails also.
To offer this amenity, as soon as things dry up in spring, a group of four to six volunteers goes in and clears all the dead fall that has accumulated through winter.
“Some years it’s a minor cleanup and some years its major depending on what mother nature has done in there,” says Heckbert. “Typically, every two years by the middle of June we need to start mowing the trails and that is a big commitment that costs us money at times. But all the people who visit there always have good things to say about it. They really appreciate it.”
This year, when the trails are groomed for cross-country skiing, Heckbert is planning to invite former cross-country skiing athlete Becky Scott to the area and partner with the schools for a one or two day event.
Beckie Scott is a former cross-country skiing athlete who grew up in Vermilion Alberta and now lives in Canmore.
Along with a number of world championships, she also competed in the 1998 and 2002 Olympics. In 2006, Scott was elected to the IOC Athlete’s Commission.
“Cross country skiing is a growing sport and around here there are not that many places available,” says Heckbert.
“There is only a short run in Winagami Lake so our 9k gets used. It is a regional attraction; people come from Eaglesham and Peace River so word is getting out there.”
During the well attended End of Season Barbeque, Mark Heckbert also presented the McLennan Tidy Towns Best Garden Awards.
This year’s Best Garden Awards first place winners were Chris and Jen Futter.
Second place went to Cathy and Maurice Berube.