Great Canadian Parks / Alberta

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The Parks / Alberta / Elk Island National Park

Beaver Hills-Cooking Lake Moraine, a remnant of the last ice sheet, is characterized by ‘knob and kettle’ topography. When the glaciers retreated from the area, they left debris clustered around chunks of ice that formed the knobs, while the melting ice made shallow ponds or kettles. These are eutrophic ponds, meaning they have a very poor oxygen supply, but they contain rich accumulations of nutrients, making them an excellent habitat for plants and wildfowl. The park has more than 250 lakes, ponds and wetlands over 20% of its surface area. Astotin Lake, near the parkŪs north end is 3.9 kilometres long, almost 3.1 kilometres wide and .5 - 10 metres deep, the parkŪs largest body of water.


The forested hills and rolling meadows are surrounded by grain fields and pasture, the aspen thickets providing forage and protection for the wildlife. Unique vegetation communities of white spruce, white birch, sand hill vegetation and saline wetlands are also found. Trembling aspen appears on the higher slopes and paper birch on the lower wetlands. In the northern end of the park are the boreal-type forest, orchids, Indian pipe, yellow pond lily and white water lily. In the central region are the black spruce bogs with muskeg vegetation such as round-leafed sundew. Browsing moose, elk, and deer munch berry bushes such as dogwood and saskatoon. Some prairie vegetation that may appear within the park are hawthorn, buckbean, buckbrush, prairie sage and Black-eyed Susan.

For thousands of years the aboriginal peoples occasionally used the area now known as Beaver Hills. Glaciation has destroyed any evidence of occupancy before 10 500 years ago. The mix of vegetation would have been very important to native people, who probably relied on the location for winter food and shelter. In the summer, the surrounding plains would have provided bison. It has always been an excellent habitat for elk, moose, deer, bear and game birds, berries, wild vegetables and fish. The camp could depend on the site for fresh water and firewood. The European trappers, who came to develop the fur trade, rapidly depleted these resources making the land inhospitable to settlers who arrived in the early 1900’s but rarely stayed to homestead.

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