City choppers in the bridges

A heavy-lift helicopter was brought in from British Columbia Wednesday to install two walking bridges in Red Deer’s Maskepetoon Park.

A heavy lift helicopter was brought in from British Columbia to install two new bridges weighing 7

A heavy lift helicopter was brought in from British Columbia to install two new bridges weighing 7

A heavy-lift helicopter was brought in from British Columbia Wednesday to install two walking bridges in Red Deer’s Maskepetoon Park.

It was the latest step to develop the ecologically sensitive park, which is located on the north side of the Red Deer River across from Heritage Ranch along the western boundary of Red Deer.

The Maskepetoon Park Master Plan was approved by city council in 2008 to guide the low impact development of the 30 hectares to provide residents with a natural retreat while also protecting the unique parcel of land.

“By developing it, it does two things,” said Dave Matthews, planning and technical services supervisor with the City of Red Deer.

“The main thing is it’s going to give people in the city the opportunity to go in and enjoy that natural area.”

Secondly, he said the improvements will deter residents from using off road vehicles such as ATVs or dirt bikes that cause damage to Maskepetoon’s tamarack fen area, mixed white spruce area, wetlands and animal habitats.

“When you develop an area like that, it tends to get rid of the illegitimate use that’s causing the damage,” he said.

“It’s kind of funny, but by developing an area you actually save an area because now there’s boundaries there.”

The chopper picked up the bridges, both weighing in at 7,257 kgs (16,000 lbs), from the staging area at Great Chief Park late Wednesday afternoon. They were taken one at a time along the Red Deer River and installed above waterways in Maskepetoon Park, which nestles the community of Oriole Park West.

The city opted to use a helicopter to drop the pre-constructed bridges so to avoid environmental damage trucks and traditional bridge construction would have caused, Matthews explained.

“In the end, really from a cost perspective, it’s negligible,” he said of the difference between on-site construction and using the helicopter.

Had the bridges been built in the park, Matthews said, the city would have faced the additional expense of reclaiming any land damaged during the process.

The total estimated cost to fly both walking bridges to the park will be about $95,000, the majority of which covers the trip the helicopter had to make from B.C.

Matthews said there was no such helicopter in Alberta available to do the lift at this time.

The price is worth it, he argued, for residents who want to escape from the urban bustle without leaving home very far behind.

“It’s always nice when you live in the city to be able to not go very far and feel like you’re out in the middle of nowhere,” Matthews said.

“Consistently, when residents are asked what they like best in Red Deer, parks and trails are always one of the highest items that are mentioned. As our population grows, we also want to grow our park areas for people to enjoy.”

Jacquie Leedahl, an Oriole Park West resident, brought her two children to Maskepetoon Park to watch the second bridge lowered.

She often walks her dog along the river in the park and was glad to see the city was giving nature the respect it deserves.

“I like that they’re going to keep it natural,” she said.

The bridges, which were built out of metal and wood, were constructed specifically for Maskepetoon Park.

Park development started in 2009 and so far a staircase descending from the escarpment down into the park along the river, a boardwalk built along the wetlands and some trails have been completed.

The additional trail work is expected to be done by the end of this year while it is anticipated that interpretive signage will be installed in 2011.

Development of Maskepetoon Park should be complete by 2012, Matthews said.

ptrotter@bprda.wpengine.com