Lethbridge River Valley Parks
Photo Credit: O2 Planning + Design Inc.
Initial Research by: Zoe Goldman
Edited by: Samantha Miller & Nicole Brekelmans
Case study compiled in 2018
Project: Lethbridge River Valley Parks Master Plan
Type of Urban Strategy: Ecological Infrastructure, Sustainable Design
Type of Project: Parks and Recreation / Naturalization
Location: Lethbridge, Alberta
Date Designed/Planned: 2014 - 2017
Construction Completed: -
Designer: O2 Planning + Design Inc.
The Lethbridge River Valley is a valuable resource to the surrounding region, as it prioritizes both recreational use and ecological services and preservation. This comprehensive plan guides the current uses and future development within the Lethbridge River Valley in a sustainable and manageable way that will ensure the protection of resources while providing increased recreational opportunities (O2, 2017).
The Lethbridge River Valley Parks Master Plan is a regional planning strategy that aims to provide direction and vision for the future development and use of the Lethbridge River Valley. The plan was designed by O2 Planning + Design Inc. for the City of Lethbridge (O2, 2017).
The Lethbridge River Valley Parks Master Plan examines the River Valley’s current uses within its biophysical, cultural, and historical context in order to highlight the site’s importance to the region. The plan offers the Lethbridge River Valley a long-term strategy to develop future infrastructure and nature-based recreation opportunities while preserving the site’s ecological integrity. Additionally, the plan emphasizes the protection of significant Indigenous heritage sites found throughout the River Valley. By following the plan’s framework, the Lethbridge River Valley Parks can ensure that future development is sustainable, safely accessible and has minimal impact on the surrounding environment.
The Lethbridge River Valley Parks Master Plan stretches over a 3,985-hectare area of land in Southern Alberta. The “Valley District” study area includes the City of Lethbridge, the Oldman River, and extensive ecological infrastructure. The Lethbridge River Valley is located within the Oldman watershed and has a moderate continental climate characterized by warm winters and mild summers. The ecological infrastructure of the Lethbridge River Valley includes large coulee landscapes, native and modified prairie grasslands, poplar forests, riparian landscapes, shrublands, and several types of wetlands. This diverse landscape provides extensive ecological services such as slope stability, biodiversity, wildlife habitat, and flood resilience (O2, 2017).
There are 12 parks within the Lethbridge River Valley, located on both sides of the Oldman River, including: Pavan Park, Alexander Wilderness Park, Peenaquim Park, Lethbridge Nature Reserve, Indian Battle Park, Botterill Bottom Park, East Slope, Elizabeth Hall Wetlands, Bull Trail Park, Paradise Valley, Popson Park, and Cottonwood Park (O2, 2017). These parks have an extensive network of formal pathways and trails that accommodate a variety of uses such as walking, hiking, running, and cycling.
The Lethbridge River Valley holds a prominent place in the history and current day values of the Indigenous peoples of the Blackfoot Nation. Prior to European settlement, the Blackfoot people depended on the River Valley and its natural resources for food, shelter, clothing, and tools.
PROJECT BACKGROUND AND HISTORY
In 2010, The City of Lethbridge and the Alberta Riparian Habitat Management Society created the Cow and Fish project to analyze the health of the Riparian areas in the Lethbridge River Valley. Additionally, in 2013, the City of Lethbridge studied the River Valley’s slope and plateau lands in order to produce the City’s Recreation and Culture Masterplan (City of Lethbridge, 2018). The abundance of information gathered in previous studies allowed for a comprehensive master plan to be created for the entire Lethbridge River Valley.
The process of creating the Lethbridge River Valley Parks Master Plan began in 2014 with three phases of public engagement activities. At these events, the public was asked for feedback on the current state of the River Valley and for input on the future development of the River Valley (O2, 2017). The information gathered at these events was used to create the State of the Valley Report, which helped to focus the master plan and proposed projects on things that were truly valuable to the public.
Additionally, the City of Lethbridge commissioned the Traditional Knowledge and Use Assessment in 2016 in order to identify and protect sites of Indigenous cultural and historical significance (O2, 2017).
GOAL OF THE PROJECT
One of the major goals of the plan is to provide increased connectivity, safe access, and recreational opportunities within the Lethbridge River Valley. Ensuring the protection of ecological, cultural, and historical functions is imperative to the success of the plan. The priority of this plan is to ensure there is a balance between preservation and recreation as the Lethbridge River Valley continues to develop (O2, 2017).
The plan provides principle objectives that align with the goals of the Lethbridge River Valley Parks Master Plan:
Conserve the natural landscape
Enhance wildlife habitats and landscape connectivity
Ensure sustainable use and management
Make the valley accessible
Connect parks and pathways
Improve valley amenities
Honour the natural and cultural heritage
DESIGN, DEVELOPMENT, AND DECISION MAKING PROCESS
The Lethbridge River Valley Parks Master Plan prepared by O2 Planning + Design Inc. was created to guide future use and development in the Lethbridge River Valley. A number of existing policies, studies, and plans influenced the content of the Lethbridge River Valley plan. The development and design of the plan spanned from 2014 to 2016 and was finalized in 2017 (City of Lethbridge, 2018).
An important aspect of creating the plan involved identifying and designating land uses within the River Valley. This would assist in developing, preserving and managing diverse areas of the River Valley (O2, 2017). Land use types identified in the plan were:
Commercial (private) recreation
Urban services + infrastructure
Interim resource extraction
The plan developed “Activity Nodes” as a planning device in order to equally distribute development throughout the River Valley and increase safe access to the Oldman River. Each activity node provides an opportunity for visitors to engage with the River Valley and all it has to offer. The plan outlines 15 existing and proposed activity nodes:
Existing activity nodes:
-Elizabeth Halls Wetlands
-Oldman River + Lethbridge Nature Reserve Trailhead
-Helen Schuler Nature Center
-Indian Battle Park Gateway
-Indian Battle Park
-Botterill Bottom Mountain Bike Park
Proposed activity nodes:
-Peenaqium Activity Area
-Botterill Bottom Boat Launch
ROLE OF DESIGNERS
The Lethbridge River Valley provides a unique environment for recreation and conservation due to its proximity to the city’s centre and its natural condition. The River Valley is a key element that contributes to the quality of life of humans and wildlife within Lethbridge. The River Valley is home to an abundance of ecological infrastructures, most notably, it’s green network and migratory corridor for biodiversity through Lethbridge.
The Lethbridge River Valley Parks Master Plan provides the region with increased connectivity and recreation opportunities in the Lethbridge River Valley while protecting the ecological, cultural, and historical values of the land. The plan allows the River Valley to improve and develop in a sustainable manner, ensuring its long-term viability and use.
The main challenge of the project is the need to balance the increased recreational use with the preservation of ecological, cultural, and historical functions.
As the Lethbridge River Valley becomes a more prominent attraction for recreation and tourism, it is essential that the Lethbridge River Valley Parks Master Plan accommodate this increase in use while protecting the landscapes ecological, cultural and historical functions.
The plan identifies and organizes the principle issues of current River Valley Parks into five categories:
- Connectivity + Pathways
- Natural Environment + Sustainability
- Amenities, Facilities + Cultural Heritage
- Accessibility + Safety
The plan provides a comprehensive approach that responds to the principal issues and supports the vision for the Lethbridge River Valley (O2, 2017).
GENESIS OF PROJECT
The Lethbridge River Valley is a valuable resource to the surrounding region, as it has a high value for both recreational use, ecological services, and preservation.
This comprehensive plan guides the current uses and future development within the Lethbridge River Valley in a sustainable and manageable way that will ensure the protection of resources while providing increased recreational opportunities (O2, 2017).
MAINTENANCE AND MANAGEMENT
The Lethbridge River Valley Parks Master Plan follows a holistic approach to management that aims to minimize conflicts between its diverse uses and users while promoting the River Valleys long term sustainability.
The plan emphasizes the protection and promotion of Indigenous heritage and cultural sites and proposes to work closely with local Indigenous communities to gain an understanding of their traditional knowledge. An advisory group comprised of individuals from the Lethbridge Indigenous community will review all proposed signage, facilities and infrastructure incorporating Indigenous design elements in order to ensure each is historically and culturally accurate (O2, 2017).