Settling in at Áísínai’pi/Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park – CCC Participant Update

Group 1 participant Grant Mask sends an update on his, Brendan Riley and Jeff Rietdyk’s experiences. They have been volunteering with Alberta Parks South Region during the field learning stage of the Canadian Conservation Corps (CCC) program.

Over the past five weeks, we have been given opportunities to assist Alberta Parks with a variety of interesting projects at Áísínai’pi/Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park in Southern Alberta.

Now that we’ve settled in and have become more familiar with the Park and staff team, I feel we’re starting to be able to contribute more as volunteers.

Some of the projects we’ve worked on include:

  • Creating interpretive backpacks with educational activities for children and families
  • Conducting research and writing literature reviews under the guidance of the Park Archaeologist to help inform future Parks projects
  • Using GPS to map and monitor graffiti remediation sites on the petroglyphs and pictographs
  • Assisting the Park Maintenance staff with the removal of beaver fence from cottonwood trees in the campground and day use area
  • Participating in meetings with community members and stakeholders including property owners adjacent to the Park and members of the Blackfoot Confederacy

I’ve learned that even in the off-season, Áísínai’pi/Writing-on-Stone is still a very busy place for the small number of permanent staff who work hard to prepare the Park for the operating-season and on a variety of resource management projects.

writing on stone
Photo credit: Brendan Riley Petroglyph depicting a ‘shield warrior’ at Áísínai’pi/Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park

The Wild Side of the Park

While there are still relatively few members of the public visiting the Park, we have noticed an increase in wildlife and plant activity at the Park now that the temperature has (finally) started to rise again. In the Milk River area in Southern Alberta where Áísínai’pi/Writing-on-Stone is situated, we’ve spotted Great Horned Owls, Bald Eagles, Prairie Falcons, several hawk species, Western Meadowlarks (their song a welcome sign of spring), Ruffed Grouse, Ring-necked Pheasants, Mule Deer, White-tailed Deer, Pronghorn, Coyotes, White-tailed Jackrabbit and Cottontail Rabbits.

In addition, we’ve started to see life return to prickly pear cacti, and we’ll soon see the purple-blue blooms of Prairie Crocuses, the bright golden-yellow blooms of Yellow Bells, in addition to other early spring wildflower species including Low Larkspur, Saline Shootingstar, Star-flowered Solomon’s Seal, and more.

That’s just a tiny glimpse into the incredible, rich biodiversity that exists in the upper grassland areas, the coulee bottoms, the sandstone hoodoos, and riparian habitats at Áísínai’pi/Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park.

We’ve yet to encounter any Prairie Rattlesnakes. But with the warmer weather approaching quickly we’ve been informed it’s only a matter of time. Around this time of year, Prairie Rattlesnakes are beginning to leave their winter hibernacula (underground chambers below the frost-line) in preparation for their mating-season which will begin in May.

Moving On

Soon, we will be leaving Áísínai’pi/Writing-on-Stone and moving to a new staff accommodation in Beauvais Lake Provincial Park. This Park is located in Pincher Creek in the Rocky Mountain–Montane natural region. It’s is home to some of the largest Douglas Fir trees in the province, and wildlife species including Black Bear, Grizzly Bear, Elk, Moose, Eagle, Osprey and numerous songbirds.

So far, Brendan, Jeff, and I have only visited the Rocky Mountains on short weekend trips. I will miss my new home at Áísínai’pi/Writing-on-Stone. But I look forward to continuing to explore the Rocky Mountain–Montane natural region of Alberta. The Canadian Conservation Corps Group 1 Alberta Parks team has lots to look forward to in the coming weeks.

Grass Hills, Milk River
Photo credit: Grant Mask View of the frozen Milk River and Sweet Grass Hills at Áísínai’pi/Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park

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Winter Camping Beneath the Stars in Algonquin Provincial Park

When I discovered I’d be one of nine youth setting out on a snowshoeing and dog sledding expedition to Ontario’s Algonquin Park (Canada’s oldest provincial park), I was overjoyed by the opportunity to take part in such an exciting adventure. Guided by Outward Bound Canada and Snow Forest Adventures, we would spend 10 days snowshoeing and mushing through mixed and deciduous forests, traversing frozen lakes, cold-weather camping and marveling at the stars.

Canadian Conservation Corps Group One

Following a few fast-paced days of orientation and team-building as group one of the Canadian Conservation Corps, we left the comfort of our cozy cabins at Camp Kandalore and headed for Algonquin Park. After a brief introduction with our instructors and a ‘duffle shuffle’ to ensure we were properly outfitted, we began our adventure at the trailhead of the Sunday Lake Dog Sled Trails. Once we had unloaded our equipment and met the dogs – some very excited Alaskan huskies – we ventured north toward our first campsite.

Rising each morning with the sun, we quickly became familiar with the routine of feeding the dogs, preparing camp meals and breaking camp for the next site. Splitting into two teams, we loaded our equipment into the dog sleds and secured the remaining gear to ‘pulks’ which we pulled while snowshoeing. A ‘pulk’ is a type of human or animal-drawn sled used in winter to transport equipment or supplies. Human-drawn pulks attach at your hips with ropes and flexible poles designed so that the load of the sled can be hauled efficiently. On the Sunday Lake Dog Sled Trails, pulks provided an effective means to transport our camp supplies.

Canadian Conservation Corps

As we arrived at each new site, we always looked after our dogs first providing them with fresh water, food, and bedding made from wood shavings. Once the dogs had settled in, we prepared a hot meal which was a reward for a successful day’s travel. After supper, we spent most evenings gathered comfortably around the campfire sharing stories and telling jokes.

Throughout our trip, wildlife sightings including Moose, Pine Martens, Gray Jays (or Whisky Jacks), Boreal Chickadees, and Spruce Grouse. In addition, we spotted abundant canid tracks including wolf tracks (identified by our instructors) in the northwest area near Hiram Lake and around the Upper Loop. Perhaps those tracks belonged to the elusive Algonquin Wolf which is designated as Threatened by Species at Risk in Ontario (SARO).

Stars in Algonquin Park
© N. Butt

Perhaps my favourite experience of all was the night we hiked out onto the frozen Hiram Lake and spent hours staring up at the seemingly infinite stars above. I wish I could fully express how it felt to be there that night – it was wonderful. Similarly, it’s difficult to put into words how grateful I am to have had the opportunity to take part in this expedition as a member of the Canadian Conservation Corps.

If any part of this experience has captured your interest, I would encourage you to visit the Canadian Conservation Corps website to learn more about this new and exciting program. The CCC incorporates three distinct stages including a wilderness expedition, field work, and community outreach and service.