The Bow River, in and downstream of Calgary is not readily accessible for recreational river use due to considerable private ownership of the adjacent land. The City of Calgary’s River Access Strategy (CRAS) and the Government of Alberta’s Bow River Access Plan (BRAP) have addressed these concerns with commitments to improve existing river access sites and adding new ones at strategic locations across the entire Lower Bow River. Calgary River Users’ Alliance (CRUA) an amalgamation of 12 river user groups continues to advocate for improved river access, and river recreational infrastructure to meet the ever-increasing popularity of outdoor pursuits. A number of our member organizations have played important roles to spearhead infrastructure developments while CRUA has taken the lead on others. Although we have seen significant commitments to infrastructure improvements in recent years, there are weaknesses in site development and upkeep across the Lower Bow River.
The CRUA Boat Ramp page details each Bow River access site. The City of Calgary made improvements at West Baker Park in 2019-20. And with the financial support of a grant secured by RiverWatch, the city built a new river access site downstream of Ogden Bridge. An upgrade to the Grave Bridge river access parking lot was completed in 2020. St. Patrick’s Island river access was upgraded to a trailered-boat launch site in 2019 by the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation. Downstream of Calgary, Bow River Trout Foundation took on the revitalization of Policeman’s Flats following the destruction of the property by the 2013 flood. A new road has been built at McKinnon Flats by Alberta Environment & Parks, and a stewardship-partnership agreement with Calgary Fish & Game Association will see an expansion to parking and river access improvements in the fall of 2021.
The Bow River Access Plan includes both the Legacy Island and Johnson Island river access sites where maintenance has been neglected in recent years. Both sites need improvements to meet the ever increasing popularity of water born recreational activities.
From its development in 2002, Legacy Island, a Crown Land lease held by Trout Unlimited Canada- Bow River Chapter (TUC-BRC), the property has been a challenge to manage. The lease agreement recognized the importance of the river access on the property, but also maintain the integrity of of the habitat of the island. A considerable amount of volunteer time and resources have contributed to the maintenance and upgrades to the property over the years. Following the 2013 flood, TUC- BRC made a significant financial commitment to mitigate the extensive damage to the property’s road and boat launch.
In 2016 two Alberta Conservation Association Community Grants were received to maintain the property and look at options to enhance access and conserve the island habitat. The investigations indicated Legacy Island was a good candidate for infrastructure improvement, but unfortunately there was resistance to advance the project. Opportunities to work collaboratively with other organizations to maintain the roadway across the property to the boat ramp have not been considered as a necessity. But in the past year, increased vehicle traffic has deteriorated the roadway further making access to the island almost impossible.
Discussions are taking place within TUC and the Bow River Chapter to define the scope of development needed to not only improve the road access to Legacy Island, but protect the ecology of the property for future generations. Funds will be needed to support projects to meet the obligation of the lease agreement and improve access to this important Bow River access site. It is hoped that community support together with Trout Unlimited Canada and the local Bow River Chapter will take up the challenge to upgrade access to Legacy Island and restore the property to what it once was, “A treasure in the network of Bow River access sites”.
Johnson Island is a part of the Wyndham-Carseland Provincial Park. It serves as a day-use area and the final Bow River access site above the Carseland Weir. The boat ramp has been built on a peninsula that overlooks the weir. Unfortunately, the boat ramp has sustained considerable damage under high river flows. The end of the concrete ramp has been washed away in recent years making it very difficult for boat use. A river access upgrade is needed to stabilize the boat ramp or construct a new boat ramp slightly upstream where an eddy now exists.
Wyndham-Carseland Park – River Access Below the Weir.
The Bow River downstream of the Carseland Weir has the potential to absorb pressure from upstream recreational river use, but improved river access is needed. Historically, several casual river access points have been used by the power-boat community to access and float the river downstream, returning to the put-in point at the end of the day. Take-out points further downstream have been problematic but it is hoped that river access sites can be negotiated in the future. A permanent river access site has been identified between the Wyndham-Carseland Provincial Park and the Carseland Weir. The proposal will use the day use area of the park as a staging area in advance of public use of the AEP service boat ramp just downstream of the weir.
It is the responsibility of river users to take an active roll as stewards for the site, by picking up garbage and encouraging boat owners to not park on the gravel shore of the river.