Waskasoo enhancements welcomed by director Jim Robertson

Waskasoo Park, one of Red Deer’s most loved features, is starting to look tired.

Waskasoo Park, one of Red Deer’s most loved features, is starting to look tired.

Jim Robertson, executive director of the Waskasoon Environmental Education Society, can tell — just from the interpretive signs at Kerry Wood Nature Centre where he works.

Those signs, along with the rest of those stationed through the vast park, were erected around the same time Robertson moved to Red Deer in 1985.

So he’s glad Waskasoo Park is going to receive modern enhancements that are going to make it an attraction that people will want to protect for years to come.

The City of Red Deer and Waskasoo Environmental Education Society are collaborating on the new $1.85-million Interpretive Master Plan for the city’s major park system.

Updating the existing 30-year-old master plan is vital, particularly when the city expands into annexed areas, Robertson said.

Stretching from the city’s southwest edge to the northeast, Waskasoo Park includes thousands of hectares of park space and 100 km of trails while following the Red Deer River and Waskasoo and Piper creeks.

Kerry Wood Nature Centre, Three Mile Bend, Riverbend Golf Course, and Bower Ponds are some of the areas and buildings that make up the park. Historic Fort Normandeau just west of Red Deer is also featured.

“There are so many things that people will want to know, things that will make them proud about Red Deer and we’re not reaching people with those stories now,” said Robertson.

He notes that some of the best fossil beds in the world are within the Red Deer region and who knows, some could be found as the park expands.

“If there’s another big excavation getting into the bedrock of the city, you will be finding fossils.

“This is part of the Waskasoo Park story, even if it’s not physically within the park boundaries as such.”

Work began on the new master plan last summer. Since then, a consulting team and steering committee have been busy meeting with park stakeholders, reviewing various related plans and research sources, and touring Waskasoo Park sites.

Public input has been important.

Open houses have been held with the help of Lorne Daniel of Grandview Consulting and Vancouver’s AldrichPears Associates, which designs for museums, interpretive centres, and other similar projects.

“They’re one of the bigger companies in the world for this kind of work,” said Robertson.

The master plan’s key aim is to give Waskasoo Park a fresh look.

“The exhibits that are here now were designed in 1984, so it’s time to update the exhibits, signs and stories we tell,” said Robertson.

Besides updating themes and methods for telling park stories, the master plan will set out a framework for how people become more aware, more involved and more connected to the park.

That way, they become park stewards.

Changes may include self-guiding trails, interpretive panels, exhibits, multimedia, interactive media and activity programs.

The Kerry Wood Nature Centre modern features will include better coffee services, an outdoor nature playground, and three indoor exhibits (Shaping the Landscape, Our Shared River and Our Sustainable Landscape) that will incorporate various technologies to show what makes the park so special.

Robertson said Fort Normandeau has exhibits that are not only boring, but are inaccurate in a number of cases.

They’ll also be updated so the site is “politically correct” when it comes to First Nations people.

“Back in 1985, there was a lot less consultation with the First Nations and (today) we’ve worked extensively with them on the fort site,” said Normandeau.

The master plan project includes $1.7 million in borrowing dollars, the rest coming from municipal reserves.

Once the master plan receives city council approval, likely in June, then the detailed designs can get underway.

Again, public input will be involved on finalizing those design exhibits and outdoor interpretations.

Some of the exhibits will likely be unveiled during the fall of 2013.

Outdoor interpretation through the park and at Kerry Wood Nature Centre are supposed to be on tap first. Robertson was to file a federal grant application so that changes could happen sooner for Fort Normandeau.

Looking 20 years ahead, Robertson envisions the core of Waskasoo Park will be the same.

The difference will be who is looking after it.

“There will a whole new generation in charge and loving it,” Robertson said.

“They’ll be putting their own imprint on it.”

And that’s what makes this master plan so worth it, Robertson said, because it aims to enhance the park for future generations to enjoy.

ltester@bprda.wpengine.com

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