TransCanada volunteer Melanie Daniels

Nature Conservancy needs a little TLC

A protected natural area on Pine Lake is getting a bit of a refurbishment. Colleen McPhee, co-ordinator for the Central Alberta Region for the Nature Conservancy of Canada, said the H.G. Lawrence property has been diminished after years of being heavily grazed by cattle. “We’re giving Mother Nature a little hand here,” the enthusiastic and rather jolly keeper of the land explains.

A protected natural area on Pine Lake is getting a bit of a refurbishment.

Colleen McPhee, co-ordinator for the Central Alberta Region for the Nature Conservancy of Canada, said the H.G. Lawrence property has been diminished after years of being heavily grazed by cattle.

“We’re giving Mother Nature a little hand here,” the enthusiastic and rather jolly keeper of the land explains.

The conservancy purchased the land — 113 acres — last December from H.G. Lawrence.

It is the last undivided quarter around Pine Lake and the owner really wanted it to be a preserved property, said McPhee, who also lives in the area.

Last week a group of volunteers from TransCanada came out to the property to plant donated native white spruce trees.

The land is open to the public, and of course the wildlife that roam it. It can be used for a variety of outdoor activities, including snowshoeing, picking berries, hiking, bird watching, and photography.

But it needs a little TLC, and volunteers are needed to assist with more planting of native species later this week.

On Tuesday a group of people have been scheduled to do some planting. On Wednesday, the public is invited to come out and help plant pin cherry, choke cherry and wild rose bushes. Pine Lake is 45 km southwest of Red Deer. (For precise directions read to the end.)

“We’re cutting really fines lines, Mother Nature and I are going to have a good time together. She and I have a bit of an argument once in awhile,” says McPhee, referring to the weather.

This week’s work will be almost the end of it for 2014. On Nov. 15, again a date where volunteers are welcome, they will do some willow harvesting. Of course she offers an invite my way but I already have a other obligations.

I’m not sure I would qualify anyway. “We’re always looking for fun people to come out and help us do stuff.”

The harvesting involves cutting some willows elsewhere on the land and preparing them for replanting in the spring, along the creek area that runs through the land into Pine Lake. Willows act as filters and prevent erosion.

“That poor lake needs all the help it can get,” said McPhee. She’s right about that.

A green algae alert was issued for Pine Lake in July. The algae toxins result in much of the lake activity — such as swimming — to come to a standstill. Ingesting the water can make people and animals such as pets quite ill.

The alert continues and could go on until November.

Algae alerts for Pine Lake are common now, as they are with other shallow lakes in Alberta.

The Lawrence property is perhaps part of the solution to a healthier Pine Lake.

The lakeshore on the property is good, untouched. There are no sandy beaches. It’s a steep, heavily bushed natural-looking lakeshore. “It’s really what it is supposed to look like,” said McPhee.

“It’s in it’s native form, let’s call it.” Getting to the waterfront is no easy task.

There’s a five-year plan to improve the property by the conservancy, which depends entirely on donated dollars.

Part of the improvement involves creating wildlife corridors for creatures such as moose and deer. The lands owned by the nature conservancy will be green spaces in perpetuity.

What’s amazing is that McPhee looks after about 45 properties — “I take care of the entire area Red Deer River natural area, 1.5 million acres.”

“Every one of our properties purchased is unique.”

“I have a million stories for you.”

McPhee, a believer in creating these special spaces, was in fact was one of the first people in the area to sell land to the conservancy.

The H.G. Lawrence property has a “hugely human” aspect because it offers a variety of outdoor activities, she said.

That includes hunting. Hunters have to ask permission of course, and McPhee hopes they will let her know what animals are being taken, as well as other information such as the health of the animals.

“We’re not here to control animal populations. We want to know hunters’ experience. The hunters are our eyes and ears in the forest because I’m a one-man show.”

The land is foot access only. McPhee asks that people be respectful of the fence lines and there’s no smoking. “Enjoy it.”

On the day I talked to her, she was busy with a contractor doing some weed control on the land.

She can’t reveal the locations but tells me the conservancy is looking at other land purchases in Central Alberta.

The number of people offering land is “overwhelming.”

“I have never ever had to go and ask anybody. So many people care. It’s amazing and wonderful.”

Dream job or what.

People interested in volunteering on Wednesday can contact the conservancy’s volunteer co-ordinator, Kailey Setter, by email at alberta@conservationvolunteers.ca or McPhee’s office phone, 403-886-4630.

For more information on the organization, go to www.natureconservancy.ca

Directions to the Lawrence property: From Hwy 2 take Hwy 42 east; turn south onto Hwy 816; from Hwy 816 turn east onto Township Road 36-4. This road leads to the Pine Lake Christian Camp Association and there is a sign for the camp at the turnoff. The property is located on the south side of the road.

barr@bprda.wpengine.com

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