The task for the weekend seemed simple enough. Drive out to the headwaters and connect with the people out there…while not getting mauled by bears, beaten up, or lost in the wilds of Alberta's back-country. And so off we set, my fellow intern Adam and I, to see what we could see.
The drive to Dutch Creek is a nice one. The flat plains give way to rolling hills and steep valleys which then gradually rise to form the slopes of the headwaters. In the distance you can see the peaks of the Rockies shining in the sun. Having arrived in Coleman we turned on to the old forestry trunk road that wound itself up along dusty slopes into the wild. This was my first time in this part of the watershed and I couldn’t help but admire the beautiful landscape around us. After a good bit of dusty gravel road we finally reached Dutch Creek, which is a small thing this time of year, but nonetheless, it was a welcome sight.
It was going to be a while until we met up with volunteer and friend Cody, so Adam suggested we scout out the lay of the land. Just off the road was a small campsite with lots of trailers and tents, most of them abandoned, presumably in favour of the lush woods and cool streams in the area. From this last vestige of humanity there was a bumpy road that made its way further into the wild, which is where we headed. Adam’s Jeep might look like a blue rust bucket but it sure did the job getting us up that road alive and well. I am guessing about 234 potholes later we found ourselves in our main area of study for the next few weeks: Caesars Flats.
For those of you that have never been up there, let me paint a picture: from the crest of a hill you look down upon a wide open area covered in grass, withered in the sweltering heat. Surrounding the staging area, the forest marches on in every direction, clinging to sandy earth. To the south you can barely make out Dutch Creek winding its way through a steep valley. Periodically it is interrupted by a fallen tree or boulder or the occasional cow that has decided this would be the ideal spot for a nap. The edges of the creek flats are surrounded by trailers of varying shapes and sizes – from a one-man fold-out trailer to a five-star luxury edition. Deep gouges and tracks traverse the staging grounds, evidence of the many visitors within the area.
After this sobering first impression we managed to meet up with Cody and his dog Stony. We decided to approach the campground first and started with our survey work. We met a lot of very interesting people at that campground, from all walks of life. There was a retired attorney from Texas that told us about how this area looked when he young. There was an irrigation farmer from Lethbridge that had moved from the Netherlands. There was the famed scary, bear-chested old man (complete with beer can and cigarette) who turned out to be a very kind grandfather enjoying camping out with his grandkids.
Bolstered with renewed confidence we drove back up to Caesars Flats and continued our work. Now, I am not going to lie to you. All this talk about shotguns, bears and partying young men had me more than a bit uneasy. And the trailers configured like fortresses only compounded my apprehension.
But let me tell you: we met nothing but friendly, welcoming people out there. Most of the time we were offered a seat and a glass of water and they were more than eager, after initial introductions, to share their stories of the land and the time they spend there. In the end, we managed to get in about 25 surveys and many great stories, told from a stunning variety of people. We talked about the wildlife, the health of the river, woodcarving, septic dumping, high school science class, coffee, quad bridges and so much more. (To any of you folks that might be reading this, thank you for letting us into your camping life for a few moments.)
The three of us made camp at a beautiful spot near the river – but not too close to the river -- and cooked up some bison steak that Cody kindly provided. Cody is actually a bison farmer and, be warned, shameless plug coming your way: he has got some good stuff. Sweetgrass Bison. Check it out.
Winding down the day at the riverside it made me think of the things. In the end, we are all out here because of the same thing: we love our country and we love the wild. In our own way, we all care about the health and well-being of this watershed, whether we actively try to or not. As Albertans we recognize that it is a right and privilege to come out here and get away from our busy lives, be it with our kids, our grand kids our just ourselves. But everybody also realizes that as Albertans it is also our responsibility and our duty to respect the land and our impact on it. We are the watershed. We take care of it. It’s what we do, Alberta.
It was getting rather cold without the sun and even Cody’s dog, Stony, was getting ready for bed. We congratulated ourselves for a successful first day and got into our tents. I climbed into the musty sleeping bag I borrowed from my Aunt, found a comfy spot, and laid down. It was at that moment I realized: I forgot a pillow.
by Rowan Wolf Garleff
Outreach Assistant, Oldman Watershed Council p:587 257 0716 | e:firstname.lastname@example.org www.oldmanwatershed.ca