Nose Hill Park: A happy accident

Rising 90 metres above the city, Nose Hill Park is a familiar landmark to everyone who lives north of the Bow River. At 2,600 acres, it is Canada’s largest natural (as opposed to groomed) urban park.


This is as much by chance as it is by design. Far from being a pristine wilderness, Nose Hill Park is a former open-pit gravel mine, and parts of it were also farmland at one time. Although popular opposition prevented the hill itself from being developed for housing in the 1970s, Calgary’s unstoppable urban sprawl has now completely surrounded the hill with roads and suburbs. As a result, wildlife corridors to Nose Hill have all been cut off.


Despite all this, the park is home to several mammal species, a dozen bird species, and nearly 100 plant species, including everything from prairie grasses and wildflowers to shrubs and trees. Most of the credit for the park’s success must be given to nature though, as humans have done little to fix the place up.


The oldest farms and buildings were razed by a wildfire in 1944 and not rebuilt. Until the 1970s, the hill was off-limits for building because of its proximity to the airport. With the advent of higher-flying jet airplanes, the development ban was lifted.


The only reason houses weren’t built at that time was the opposition from the citizens of Calgary. However, they were mostly opposed because they saw Nose Hill as a great recreation area for horseback riding and the like, not because they wanted a wilderness preserve.


Finally, when the last mine closed in the 1980s, it wasn’t because of environmental concerns. It was because the mineral resources had been exhausted, and there was nothing left to mine for.


But, be it by good planning or plain dumb luck, Nose Hill Park is a thriving natural place, if not a wild one. Indeed, the hill is a stunning example of nature’s ability to reclaim formerly developed land, when given the chance.


This fact is lost on many people. They complain about deer crossing the roads surrounding the park, not realizing the roads have cut off the deer from the rest of their range. They also complain about coyotes on the hill where they like to walk their yappy little dogs.


“Couldn’t they do something about those awful things? What if my little Princess Froo-Froo gets attacked by one of them?”


Some of them just abuse the park, using lookout points as vehicular motels and glacial erratics-once used as buffalo rubbing stones-as graffiti canvasses.


There are a few, though, who appreciate just how lucky we are to have this treasure in our backyard. Maybe now there are a few more.


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