Crews are digging dirt and planting trees in St. Albert’s Riel Business Park this week to try and improve the state of the Sturgeon River.
City of St. Albert crews started work on the $150,000 Riparian Restoration Project June 27.
The project seeks to remove berms and add trees to the empty field behind the Westcon Precast concrete facility in Riel Business Park to improve water storage and reduce downstream flooding.
Historians suggest this area would have been covered with trees centuries ago, before settlers cleared it for agricultural and later industrial uses. St. Albert council proposed putting a bike skills park here in around 2016, but dropped the idea due to the environmental difficulties of building in a flood plain. An oft-flooded portion of the Red Willow Park trail runs through this area.
The City of St. Albert received a $150,000 provincial grant in 2018 to restore riparian (shoreline) vegetation in this area, said city environment co-ordinator Melissa Logan. This summer, crews will remove berms and repair vehicle ruts in this area to improve surface and groundwater flows. They will plant about 100 native trees, shrubs, and grasses to increase water storage and remove about 10 non-native trees (Manitoba maples) that would otherwise die due to changes in the region’s water flows.
“We’re hoping to keep [the trail] open as much as possible,” Logan said, but parts of it might close temporarily to bring in equipment.
Logan said this work should improve local bank stability and reduce flooding in downtown St. Albert. It will not stop flooding on the local trail segment — that would require moving the trail, which isn’t in the project’s budget. (The city hopes to move the trail later.)
Riparian zones have a disproportionate influence on watershed health, said Leah Kongsrude, outgoing executive director of the North Saskatchewan Watershed Alliance. The trees added by this project will keep contaminants out of the Sturgeon, improving water quality, and slow and store water flows into it, reducing flood and drought risks. They will also create habitat for wildlife.
“It’s a wonderful project for St. Albert,” Kongsrude said of this work.
Logan said the city hopes to do more restoration projects like this in the future.
Roger Belley, a retired parks co-ordinator with the City of St. Albert, said this site is home to many spruce trees planted by kids who live with disabilities in around 2007 — part of a push by city crews to beautify the region.
“We were a little disturbed at the view you’d get from the trail,” Belley said — the back side of a concrete factory — so he and renowned forester Peter Murphy arranged to add trees here.
Those trees are now roughly five metres tall, and will have to be removed as part of this project, Logan said. Crews hope to move the trees, but might have to knock them down if they can’t get a tree spade into the area.
“The wet weather is not really co-operating with us,” she said, as the tree spade needs dry ground to work on.
Belley said he is OK with the removal of these trees, as it is to protect the Sturgeon, but hopes they can be moved to another natural area.
“It’ll be hard to say goodbye to the trees,” he said, as his son helped plant them.
Logan said the Riparian Restoration Project should be finished this August. Visit bit.ly/3Osbycs for details.