Natural area near Stettler preserved for future generations

A unique quarter section near Stettler featuring a large mineral lick and ravines carved out by melting glaciers has been preserved as a conservation site.

A unique quarter section near Stettler featuring a large mineral lick and ravines carved out by melting glaciers has been preserved as a conservation site.

Beltz Lake Conservation site, about 25 km southeast of the town, is now open to hikers, bird and other wildlife watchers, and hunters and anglers. The 160-acre site featuring wetlands teeming with critters of all kinds was purchased as a joint project by the Alberta Conservation Association, Alberta Fish and Game Association, Ducks Unlimited Canada and Wildlife Habitat Canada.

“It’s quite an unusual site, both because it has still quite a bit of native vegetation and also because of the geology,” said Andy Murphy, a senior technician with the conservation association. A glacial outwash left by melting glaciers features deposits high in salts.

Murphy said it is likely that the mineral lick was used by bison herds for many years prior to European settlement.

“The evidence for that is the side of the hill is virtually eaten away. And the person we bought this from, his cows still like to go and lick the soil in the same way that bison did years before cattle were brought into the country.”

Both whitetail and mule deer, as well as the occasional moose, can be seen in the area, which is just south of Beltz Lake.

The wetlands are popular with many types of waterfowl and during nesting season, upland areas support a variety of grassland songbirds, including western meadowlarks, a species that has disappeared from many areas in Central Alberta.

Murphy said he couldn’t disclose how much the organization paid for the land owned by Doug Hughes since the mid-1970s, but said it was a good deal.

“It was certainly a good deal for the public because now everyone has access to the site.”

A sign is expected to go up on the site in the next week or two.

On the first Saturday in June next year, the conservation site will be officially opened and the Buffalo Lake Naturalists have been invited to talk about the biodiversity there and the results of their species counts, which have been done for many years in the area.

There are no plans to build trails on the property, but getting around will not be a problem, he said.

“Because it has these two big ravines through it it’s very easy to know where you are and to see the property.”

Boundary markers will be posted on the edges of the site and the sign will include a map of the area.

The site will join 386 already open to the public in Alberta. It is hoped that other sites can be added from Central Alberta in the future.

In the meantime, the association’s focus is on attaining about 1,100 acres on the shores of Cooking Lake southeast of Edmonton and known as Golden Ranches.

For information on conservation sites, go to www.ab-conservation.com

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com

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