I didn’t grow up in Edmonton around the North Saskatchewan River, but instead on a grain and cattle farm where the river was a five minute drive away, and was inhabited by more wildlife than humans. Growing up, the river represented a place where fun was had; a place where I’d spend the day fishing with family friends and where my siblings and I would chase each other through the river brush trying to catch birds and each other.
Since moving to Edmonton to attend the University of Alberta to study Biology and Anthropology, I have experienced the river in a much different way. My new Edmontonian friends called the river “dirty”, and were shocked when I shared my love and fond memories of the banks on which my childhood was spent. They couldn’t believe I had ever swam in it, or eaten the fish from its waters.
Though I respected my friends concern for safety around the river, I didn’t let the negative view they had taint my love of the waterbody. Throughout the five years I’ve lived in Edmonton I continued to regularly engage with the river, and it has become an essential part of my life in Edmonton. As a result, I am very excited to be the North Saskatchewan Riverkeeper’s Swimmable Water Intern for the summer, and to share with you my five favorite ways to interact with the River this spring and summer!
(1) Run (or Walk or Wheel) Next to It
No need to head to the gym to get your exercise in, as the Edmonton River Valley has over 150 km of multi-use trails, many of which follow the river or give way to stunning perspectives of it. I highly encourage you to gather up friends or family, and check out the running and biking trails right in your backyard. My personal favorite running route that I have found since exploring, is crossing the High Level bridge and looping back on the Groat bridge to get two different, yet equally gorgeous perspectives of the river valley and the river. As for wheeling, I prefer exploring the multiple trails within Mill Creek Ravine as I always find new critters and sights, and many fellow cyclists enjoying the view.
(2) Stop and Stare
I know as a busy student involved in multiple extracurriculars myself, that taking time for yourself to enjoy the environment around you is something that can easily get lost in the hustle and bustle of everyday tasks. But finding small slivers of time and seeking out a quiet place on the bank of the river with loved ones or a book, can make for a nice relaxing session you may not have even realized you needed. Studies have shown that by spending time in natural settings, it can lead to increased mood, cognition, and mental health through the connection one feels with nature. These benefits could help you in mastery of your daily work and life tasks, and I cannot think of a better place in Edmonton to get your nature fix than the river valley!
(3) Take Ownership (and Clean Up)
Serving my community in multiple capacities is something I’ve always been passionate about, and the river and its ecosystem are no exception. All you need is garbage bags, some gloves and maybe some water-inspired tunes to get out and clean up your community. The North Saskatchewan River is a natural resource we are very lucky to have, and by taking a few minutes within your nature walk to pick up litter, you can contribute to the health of the river and the city. Be sure to report any other pollution you see by calling the Alberta Environmental Hotline to report a spill (1-800-222-6514), and 311 for other pollution reporting inquiries. You can also report pollution through the SwimGuide app (available through IOS and Android).
If you think that picking up garbage in the river valley can’t be fun? Check out one of the world’s newest ‘sports’ called “Plogging”! It originated in Sweden and involves running while picking up garbage, and there’s even a Plogging Canada group you can join for the latest updates/meetups
(4) Fish (Sustainably)
Fishing in the North Saskatchewan was something I thought of as commonplace growing up. I enjoy how it taught me patience and always left me with a good tan. With your fishing gear and knowledge of Alberta Fishing guidelines, you can head down to many of the common fishing spots within and outside Edmonton, and you can catch up to eight different species of fish. July Family Fishing Weekend is coming up on July 6-7, and is a great time to try out fishing for free, as no fishing license is required during this weekend.
As for eating fish from the river, it is recommended by the City of Edmonton that you should eat no more than one fish a week and not consume any if you are pregnant, a woman of child-bearing age or children below fifteen. This is due to safety precautions surrounding the naturally occurring mercury content possibly present in the fish tissue.
(5) Enjoy an Event on It
If you have never floated down a river on floaties all tied together, soaking up the summer sun with friends, you must. It is easily one of my favorite memories on the river. Be sure to do your research beforehand on the route you wish to float, and the safety equipment you should bring along. If you don’t already own equipment, consider going through a company to rent the equipment and enjoy the added benefit of their shuttle service.
If floating down the river on floaties isn’t for you, there are other events on the river that I have enjoyed, such as those put on by the Edmonton Riverboat! The Riverboat’s rides are around 90 minutes and they host various seasonal events. A trip on the Riverboat will allow you to see Edmonton from a whole new perspective.
Another event that offers you a chance to get on the river is Epcor’s Riverfest in Edmonton and Devon, coming up on Saturday August 10th. The whole event is a celebration of the North Saskatchewan River and River Valley park system, and they have ticket sales on right now for a float down the river on a raft or voyageur canoe. Throughout the day, there will also be a bunch of free river-centered land activities located in Laurier Park to check out, and the opportunity to connect with river-valley related businesses and clubs!
I hope you enjoyed my favorite Edmonton river valley activities and are inspired to get out and about in and around the river this spring and summer. I also encourage you to explore the river valley in any way you dream up, and to share your river valley experiences with friends and family.
Knight, T. M., Bowler, D. E., Buyung-Ali, L. M., Knight, T., & Pullin, A. S. (2010). A systematic review of evidence for the added benefits to health of exposure to natural environments. BMC Public Health, 10, 456.