Paddle boats and canoes can be rented at Bower Ponds.

Paddle boats and canoes can be rented at Bower Ponds.

Trails and so much more

Picnics, bird watching, horseback riding, fishing, paddle boat cruising — you name it. Waskasoo Park, Red Deer’s great outdoor treasure, has it all and much more.

Picnics, bird watching, horseback riding, fishing, paddle boat cruising — you name it.

Waskasoo Park, Red Deer’s great outdoor treasure, has it all and much more.

Dave Matthews, Parks Planning and Technical Services supervisor for the City of Red Deer, says when people think about Waskasoo Park, they think about the more than 110 km of trails.

But there’s much more to discover on a hot summer day, including all the parks within the park, such as Heritage Ranch, Maskepetoon Park, Bower Ponds, Great Chief Park, Rotary Recreation Area, Three Mile Bend and Great West Adventure Park.

The park stretches almost continuously along the Red Deer River banks from River Bend Golf Course and Recreation Area in the northeast to Fort Normandeau in the west, and along the two main tributaries of Waskasoo and Piper Creeks.

It was more than 30 years ago that the province initiated an urban parks program, giving funds to municipalities to help develop parks. Red Deer received $23 million to develop the park system.

As a result, Waskasoo Park quickly became one of the city’s most valued assets and tourist attractions.

Over the years, the park continued to be developed; playgrounds, picnic grounds, shelters, paved trails and community facilities were added.

Many of the park’s offerings — such as Lions Campground, River Bend and Gaetz Lakes Sanctuary — are connected by the winding trails such as the popular McKenzie Trails. McKenzie Trails Recreation Area is in northeast Red Deer at the end of 45th Avenue.

“Depending on where you go, there’s always something different to see and something to experience,” said Todd Nivens, Kerry Wood Nature Centre’s program co-ordinator. “If you want high activity out in the bright sunshine and lots of noise and excitement, you have got Bower Ponds with the play park and the ball diamonds. If you want quiet, contemplative, cool refuge on a summer afternoon, you have Maskepetoon with its tamarack forests.”

The official opening of Maskepetoon Park, part of the overall park system, came in 2013. Located on the southwest side of Oriole Park, the lesser known gem was originally an undisturbed river valley that was bisected by Hwy 2 bypass in 1959. The development of the 75-acre park of forest and marshland took about four years, in order to preserve the ecology, do trail and boardwalk construction, vegetation reclamation and signage.

Pedestrians can stroll along the paths and trails that wind through the forest and marshland.

Nivens said there’s an immense variety of things to do in Waskasoo Park on a summer or winter afternoon.

But he said if you’re looking forward to having a picnic, one of the best places is at Fort Normandeau, with its expansive fields and new picnic shelter, fire pits and tables.

As an added bonus, all the exhibits in Fort Normandeau’s interpretive centre were just re-opened this year after renovations over the winter.

“For people who are looking to get off the beaten track, I honestly think Fort Normandeau is one of the places that people need to spend more time at,” said Nivens.

Nivens also noted that Waskasoo Park is accessible by foot, transit and vehicle.

One of the popular spots on hot summer days is Discovery Canyon, accessible by foot across the Red Deer River footbridge north of Three Mile Bend off of Riverside Drive, or by vehicle to River Bend Golf and Recreation Area. Water lovers can cool off in the natural river-fed pools of water on a hot summer day.

Or stay closer to home and check out the city newly opened Blue Grass Sod Farm Central Spray and Play in the northwest corner of Rotary Recreation Park in downtown Red Deer.

The Three Mile Bend Recreation Area, located on the North Bank Trail next to the Red Deer River off Riverside Drive at 76th Street, is a 55-hectare natural area that offers an off-leash dog park, a remote control car track, canoeing ponds and freestyle ski jump.

“You could literally spend a day on a bicycle and have a dozen different experiences at half a dozen different park nodes and some of them can be as simple as sitting on the riverbank dangling your feet on the water to having a picnic in the park,” said Nivens.

“The beautiful thing about Waskasoo Park is that it’s a fantastic way for people to disengage and really get in touch with the fact that Red Deer is a nature-based city.

“We have this fantastic natural heritage that runs through the heart of the city.

“If you really give the park some time and really take the chance to slow down and explore parts of it, people are really going to get a good appreciation for the whole speed of life in the park.”

In 2010, the city set in motion a plan to revitalize the identity of Waskasoo Park. Some of the signs were about 30 years old and were falling apart. The finishing touches on the new signage in Rotary Park, Kin Kanyon, Bower Ponds, Great West Adventure Park, Maskepetoon Park and Oxbows Off Leash Park were completed this year.

For more information about Waskasoo Park and other outdoor amenities, go to reddeer.ca/recreation-and-culture.

crhyno@bprda.wpengine.com

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