Forty-five years ago, just before I became president of the Alberta Fish and Game Association for two years, then president, Tom O’Keefe, assigned me to “look after” the keynote speaker at our annual convention that year, Roderick Haig Brown of Campbell River, B.C., internationally venerated angling author, conservationist and provincial court judge.
Rod had recently attended the Federation of Fly Fishermen’s Annual conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, and had fished nearby and world famous Silver Creek, a spring creek, or chalk stream, as they call such miracles of nature in England. I had done likewise a year or two earlier on the large Nature Conservancy preserve on the creek.
“Do you have any spring creeks in Alberta?” Haig Brown asked. “Very few,” I replied.
Had I known then what I know now, I’d have answered “only one,” thinking of the agricultural destruction of Alford and Schrader Creeks, and the similar mess being made of the much larger and longer North Raven River or Stauffer Creek, as it was then known.
“Spring creeks are rare and priceless treasures,” Haig Brown pronounced, “preserve and protect them.”
That was when I vowed the AFGA would get serious about Stauffer Creek. It had already contributed money and manpower to a scientific stream study to document what had gone wrong, and how to fix it: basically, clearing brush too close to the creek and cattle stomping down the soft banks had widened, silted and warmed the waters, and its trout and aquatic insects were no longer thriving.
A little hydrology and geography is essential to an understanding of how absolutely unique this little river is and how its singular characteristics contribute to the threats it constantly faces, including the latest: the probable destruction of its source springs by a proposed gravel pit on property adjacent to the springs.
Actually two spring creeks rise full-size from the ground, close to each other on the same quarter section southeast of Rocky Mountain House: one, Clear Creek, flows a short way west into the Clearwater River; the other, Stauffer Creek, now officially the North Raven River, flows south east for approximately 27 km to join the south Raven River at Raven, then into Gleniffer Lake on the Red Deer. Thus are two major drainages nearly connected, the Red Deer and the North Saskatchewan Rivers.
They have in fact been joined three times in my memory, most recently in June 2005, when the raging Clearwater River reversed Clear Creek, which ran back into the North Raven’s nearby springs, then onward to the Red Deer.
The threat arises occasionally to make the diversion permanent: turn these two priceless spring creeks into a mere canal in the Prairie Rivers Improvement Management Enhancement pipedream to move water south from the Clearwater, maybe even to the U.S. Fortunately the infamous Clearwater gravels are not a stable base to hold a dam on the very fast river.
There was a historic human consequence of this near connection of major watersheds: I have an old map showing a trail by which natives from the south came into Cree country up the North Raven, down Clear Creek and the Clearwater to trade at the successive forts at Rocky Mountain House.
The North Raven, is one of our few trout streams with a long angling history, recorded by the late Red Deer writers Kerry Wood and the late Dr. Bill Parsons.
Originally it held only bull trout, rocky mountain whitefish, pike and suckers. But, after the war, Stauffer enjoyed a flowering of great fishing following the planting of brown and brook trout into it in the 1930s.
Dr. Bill, as related in his occasional columns in the Advocate, was a member of the Kingfishers, a group of fly fishermen from Red Deer and Edmonton who had camps or cabins at several North Raven locations and private and pet names for favoured angling spots on the little river.
But the Kingfishers moved on to the upper south Raven River as the North Raven fishing deteriorated due to careless agricultural practices causing a widening and silting of the stream and a warming of its water.
The modern angling era of the North Raven River as, arguably, Alberta’s top trout stream, started with the absolute model of a stream study outlining the problems and proposing ways of rehabilitating the river: basically narrowing the river’s channel by rebuilding its banks, replanting willows to stabilize the banks and shade the stream, and fencing cattle away from the creek, except for specified, well-protected watering locations, including some off-stream ponds.
The icing on the cake and the go-ahead and funding for the North Raven’s rehabilitation came when Dr. Allan Warrack, minister of Lands and Forests in Peter Lougheed’s first government, announced the establishment of the Buck for Wildlife Program and, shortly after that, the North Raven River was announced as its first project.
To be concluded next week.
Bob Scammell is an award-winning columnist who lives in Red Deer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.