Paskapoo Slopes

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Paskapoo Slopes is a significant natural, environmental and cultural feature[ within the city of Calgary. It is a set of six Glacial Lake Calgary benches crisscrossed by a series of twelve ravines lying below the edge of the imposing Paskapoo Escarpment and the Coach Hill Uplands. They extend for four kilometres along the south side of Trans Canada Highway ending near Coach Hill/Patterson Heights, Calgary. The visually prominent forested landmark on Calgary's primary western gateway from the Rockies includes the escarpment which rises up to 155 metres above the Trans Canada Highway along with slopes of varying degrees, ravines, water springs and tree cover. The Paskapoo slopes have significant visual impact as they are located at city's west gateway.

Lands abutting on and including sections of the Paskapoo Slopes were annexed by the City of Calgary from Rocky View municipality in the 1950s. This included the area now known as Cougar Ridge. The Strathcona area, including the northern portion known as Patterson Heights was annexed to the City in 1956 as part of a comprehensive annexation but planning was not initiated until the early 1970’s and development did not occur until the 1980s.

Patterson Heights was composed mainly of country residential acreages. The original CFCN Communications Ltd. radio and television broadcasting facility was developed in 1961 on Broadcast Hill, Patterson Heights with two later expansions. The

Southwest Calgary communities of Coach Hill (est. 1979) and Patterson Heights (est. 1983) abut the boundary of the Paskapoo Slopes. Coach Hills/Patterson Heights Community is bounded on the north and east by Sarcee Trail, the south by the Bow Trail Extension and on the West by 69 Street. The preservation of the Paskapoo north slope and escarpment in its natural state was already a concern of the West Bow Trail Coordinating Council in the 1970s.The City of Calgary's Urban Park Master Plan (1994) called for a continuous integrated river valley system reflecting Calgary's unique prairie and foothills setting. The Plan recogniszd that unlike any other segment, Bow River West was characterized by its diversity, abundance and connectivity of natural vegetation and landforms that aims to reduce the environmental footprint of the river valleys' park system. This program protects key watershed areas and establishes extensive open space buffers along both the Bow and Elbow rivers.

The ravines such as those of the Paskapoo Slopes are unique to Bow River West some of which have springs that cut abruptly into the think lake deposits that border the valley. The moisture in these spring-fed ravines like in Paskapoo Slopes, Twelve Mile Coulee, Edworthy Park, and Valley Ridge balsam poplar, which usually requires moist valley, thrives. This combination of factors encourages significant wildlife movement and use. The map of the vision plan shows the Paskapoo Slopes to the east and west of Calgary Olympic Park keyed as "Preservation Parks".

The Enmax Parks Program (2007) funded through the Enmax Legacy Fund secured Paskapoo Slopes for a future park. This acquisition fit under the Calgary Urban Park Master Plan (1994).

The City of Calgary's Park Development and Operations has identified large portions of Paskapoo Slopes as environmentally significant and has been extensively studying the area since 1991. The escarpment is characterised by an abundance of natural features including steep ravines and gullies, streams and springs, unique stands of Aspen and Balsam Poplar, dense dogwood, Riverine Tall Shrub communities, and a large glacial erratic (in the south- central portion of the ASP area). The slopes are also known to be habitat for deer, small mammals, and a large variety of migratory and breeding birds. Paskapoo Slopes have been ccompared to Nose Hill natural areas in terms of environmental significance.

The oldest archaeological sites in the city of Calgary dating back C. 8,500 radiocarbon years before present occur on the Paskapoo Slopes of Broadcast Hill as well as in Tuscany, downtown Calgary and Hawkwood.

In pre-contact times, First Nation peoples used the area extensively as the high escarpment ridge offered unobstructed views of the Bow River Valley below and the prairies beyond. The river banks were used as winter camps.

As well the steep cliffs provided ideal conditions for the buffalo jump, a unique method of hunting bison that is similar in complexity to the UNESCO World Heritage Site Head-Smashed in Buffalo Jump. A baseline archaeological inventory and assessment was carried out in May and June 1997 of Pre-contact Native Archeological sites in the East Paskapoo Slopes, including the Ripley Retreat on Ripley Ridge. This study investigated the Pre-contact Native Archaeological sites in the area. In total 49 sites were found ranging in type from kill/processing sites of buffalo to camps and sweat pits.

A Historical Resources Inventory and Assessment of both the East Springbank III and East Paskapoo Slopes planning areas was commissioned by The City of Calgary in the summer of 1998 concluding that the archeaological sites on record vary from local to high regional significance. The study identified a significant number of archeological sites which are considered to be the northern extension of the Porcupine Hills/Oldman River basin pattern of bison driving, trapping and processing. The pattern, dating back over the past five thousand years or more, is characterized by the use of escarpments, slopes, benches and ravines for trapping and processing bison. The bison were gathered from the grazing lands in the uplands to the south and west and moved by a system of drive lanes to preferred killing and processing locales along Paskapoo Slopes. Archaeologist Brian O.K. Reeves (1998:iii) linked the groups using the camp and kill sites along the Paskapoo slopes to the kill and processing sites along the Porcupine Hills further south in Alberta. The kill sites on the Paskapoo slopes, which Reeves counts at a minimum of 39 on the side of the Olympic Park alone,[ are less intensively used than sites in the Porcupine Hills such as the Old Woman's Buffalo Jump, but are more numerous and spatially dispersed. The main differences observed at the Paskapoo Slopes is primarily that the bison driving and processing is spread out laterally and vertically along the slopes and, although intensive, it is spread over 2 km of slope.

Because of its Pre-Contact context, Paskapoo Slopes vary from local to regional and provincial significance. In 2005 Brian Vivian and his team uncovered two Proto-Historic bison processing/kill sites that indicate a spring located on the NW corner of the Paskapoo Escarpment was used as a location to hunt bison for almost 4000 years (Vivian et al 2005).

Protection, preservation, enhancement of Paskapoo Slopes Environmental Reserve

The Paskapoo Slopes Preservation Society was founded by Hugh Magill in 1993 to preserve the park and to protect the environmentally sensitive escarpment as well as significant archeaological sites – including the historic buffalo jump.

The City of Calgary Parks and Recreation Department is developing a management plan for the Paskapoo Slopes Natural Environment Park. By the fall of 2008 a draft version of the natural park vision was shared with the working group membership.

Paskapoo Slopes Park is designated as Environmental Reserve (ER) which is the legal term referring to land designated as environmental reserve by a subdivision authority or a municipality under Division 8.As such the area of the Paskapoo Slopes designated as a Environmental Reserve (ER) must be "left in its natural state or be used as a public park." Jason Unger of the Environmental Law Centre of Edmonton, Alberta explains how the designation Environmental Reserves (ER) allows municipalities to use this preservation and planning tool for environment protection of dedicated lands.

Encroachments into Paskapoo Slopes

Increasing competition for use of the Paskapoo Slopes land highlights the need for protection of the Environmental Reserve (ER). The City of Calgary has undertaken a number of studies out of concerns about encroachments into the Paskapoo Slopes. The expansions of existing residential neighbourhoods such as Coach Hill/Patterson Heights, and the construction of new developments such as Crestmont (Rocky View), East Springbank III, Cougar Hill along with Winsport's proposal for further development of the COP area.

Canada Olympic Park Masterplan (2010)

The Canada Olympic Park Masterplan (2010-01) proposed to dedicate 164 acres of Paskapoo Slopes to City of Calgary ownership which combined with contiguous lands already acquired by the City would result in an exceptional Paskapoo Slopes Park and Trails system and open space for all Calgarians. Of the Paskapoo Slopes area considered for development c. 21.89 acres may be considered Environmental Reserve (ER) are being proposed for development. The plan would preserve 113.5 acres of Environmental Reserve (ER) land. The application was approved, with changes, by the Calgary Planning Commission on Sept 15th, 2011.

The Land Use and Outline Plan proposed to integrate the Paskapoo Slopes into the existing open space network. Development within the plan area would be integrated with the escarpment so that insofar as possible and practical ravines, watercourses and other important features would be conserved, the impact of the built form on natural areas would be minimized, wildlife would be protected and land disturbance would be mitigated. Notably, lands with the highest environmental significance would be, whenever possible, retained in a natural state.

However, Hugh Magill of the Paskapoo Slopes Preservation Society who applauded WinSport's initial proposals argues that the new plan encroaches higher up on the slopes and involves paving more of the lower lands.

Patterson Heights

Patterson Woods, owned by Calgary Development Corporation, is in the northeast of Paskapoo Slopes and is part of a corridor connecting the slopes to Edworthy Park. Although construction was delayed briefly in 1999, construction continued and some bone sites have been lost.

By 2006 City of Calgary requested the protection of large and continuous blocks of treed land on the Paskapoo Slopes contiguous with Patterson Point which would be dedicated to the City as Municipal Reserve (MR) thereby limiting development. The Patterson Point Development plan area, part of Patterson Heights Community, bounded by the closed road allowances of Patrick Street SW and Patrick Avenue SW.included a section of the Paskapoo Slopes which sloped downward from the southwest corner and then increased in steepness. The steeper slopes with elevations of 1229 m and 1192 m were designated as Environmental Reserve (ER) areas.

West Springs/Cougar Ridge

The Paskapoo Slopes is an integral part of the West Springs and Cougar Ridge Communities valued by the community for its significant ecological and historical resources.

Cougar Ridge development included storm-water sewer and sanitary sewer lines that run down and across the Paskapoo Slopes and its major ravines fragmenting the natural area.  During the fall of 2000, an extensive archaeological study was performed on the significant sites located along the storm and sanitary utility corridor for the Cougar Ridge Community. This trunk now runs down the Paskapoo Slopes. Before it was installed, these digs were completed.

The Cougar Ridge residential development project above the proposed Paskapoo Slopes Park, will provide a parking lot for the park in the future. There is a Municipal Reserve (MR) area with a local pathway linking into the Paskapoo Slopes park. Cougar Ridge Naturalized Park which is part of Paskapoo Slopes is designated as Municipal Reserve (MR) and Environmental Reserve (ER) and as such natural grasses, shrubs and trees were planted c. 2002 throughout.

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