Riverbend Wetlands

Our new fountain is a visually pleasing feature on the lake with the added benefits inherent with water aeration.

One of the common observations offered by newcomers and visitor to Southern Alberta is that the area suffers from a lack of lakes. Certainly compared to Minnesota, the “land of 10,000 lakes” or their neighboring Canadian province of Manitoba, we have fewer lakes. For most, the attraction of lakes is the recreational opportunities inherent in large bodies of water.

Because of the smaller number of lakes, bodies of water that wouldn’t qualify to carry the designation elsewhere are lakes here. This might beg the question, what constitute a lake? Some opinion focuses on a threshold of 2 acre surface area, but in Montana a body of water has to be a minimum of 20 acres to be called a lake. But please grant us some license, for you see, it’s really no different from use of the word “mountain” here versus elsewhere. With our majestic Rocky Mountains giving us our perspectives, we sometimes marvel at the hills in other regions that locals feel earn the moniker, “mountain.”

In spite of having fewer lakes, we don’t have a shortage of water. From rivers and streams to a variety of water bodies. Southern Alberta has a number of reservoirs created to collect water for irrigation. As agriculture was the primary purpose, recreational use was considered secondary.

In addition to lakes and reservoirs we have wetlands, a critical component of the ecology of our region. It might surprise you to learn that 20 percent of the surface of Alberta is covered by wetlands. The two types of wetlands in Southern Alberta’s wetlands are “Shallow Open Water Ponds” and “Marshes.” Here at Riverbend Campground we are blessed to have both types of wetlands features. Our “lake” is a Shallow Open Water Pond located on the west half of the property. Our Marsh is located east of the main road just below the hill.

The fountain on the lake adds a visually pleasing feature while promoting a healthy aquatic ecosystem. The fountain provides aeration of the water. The primary benefits of aeration are an improved fish habitat, a reduction in algae growth, and decreased mosquito activity.

Our wetlands offer ideal habitat for a wide variety of wildlife. Those with an interest in bird watching will have opportunity to see some very interesting species. Here’s a list of some of the birds that have been spotted here at Riverbend with notation on species that have nested here. Make use of our Nature Trails to explore these areas of our property. These run throughout the campground. Some run up the hill to the road from the East End and some follow the creeks.  We continue to add new trails and upgrade the existing legs. The wood mulch we are adding provides a good walking surface, is aesthetically pleasing, helps with weed control, and minimizes soil erosion. A new trail starts behind the main west washroom, follows the creek east and exits in the area of the new tenting sites. It covers rough terrain and caution is advised.

Exploring the trails is a very quiet and pleasant way to see wildlife and different species of trees and undergrowth. If you catch the season right, you will be treated to several wild edible berries. Start by picking up a trail map at the office and begin your firsthand introduction to the Riverbend Wetlands.

Hope Ana Prayer Chapel

Small wooden churches were a mainstay of life on the Canadian prairies. As communities sprang up across the west, the church was a central part of life in the community. This history can be viewed in Heritage Park Historical Village in Calgary. Their church, St. Martin’s Anglican Church, was originally built in 1896 in the Southern Alberta community of Lundbreck.

There were many small churches, but only a few fit in the category of tiny. Cross Island Chapel in Oneida, New York bills itself as the world’s smallest church with a floor of 51-inches by 81-inches and a seating capacity of two. Perhaps while travelling the Dinosaur Trail, near Drumheller, you have taken a few minutes to visit “The Little Church.” The sign at this site boasts “Seating 10,000 people 6 at a time.” In addition to being a tourist stop it also sees the occasional wedding and worship service. Here’s a link to their Facebook page. The Little Church has even made it onto TripAdvisor’s list of things to do in Drumheller.

The Hope Ana Prayer Chapel during renovations last summer

Our little chapel has a less grand history but is a special little spot for us.  You will find it nestled in a secluded little area on what we call The Island. It was originally constructed over the 2000 and 2001 seasons. It was fondly christened the “Hope Ana Prayer Chapel” If you have never seen it, you will get a sense of scale knowing it too has a seating capacity of six people.

The Chapel's "stained glass" windows.
The Chapel’s “stained glass” window.

During construction, some of our seasonal campers donated items like benches, lanterns and candles to the project. At various spots around the lake you could see the structure standing above the bushes, surrounded by the larger trees. Over time the undergrowth filled in and embraced our little hideaway. Along with flora, time and weather took their toll and this little gem fell into disrepair.

Last summer, our team rolled up sleeves, and with sawdust flying and hammers swinging the Hope Ana Prayer Chapel has been restored. We like to think the new edition is even better than the original. New roof, new siding, new windows, we think it turned out pretty well. It was finished in time to be used for a family wedding last summer. Have a look at some of our pictures, and when you visit us this summer, make sure to take a stroll onto the island, take a look, a picture or two and spend a few quiet minutes.

New roof, new siding, new lease on life.

RV Fire Safety

In the past twelve months we have had two RV fires.  The most recent was a Class A motorhome that was destroyed in a fire on January 8th.  The Okotoks Fire Department responded and says it took two hours to extinguish the fire.   The trailer on the next site had some exterior damage but was saved by the efforts of the firefighters.

We want to ensure the safety of all of our campers.  Before starting the season, do a though safety review.  Does your unit have working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors?  These should be checked and tested regularly.  Make sure you have a fully charged fire extinguisher in your RV.  Everyone should know where it is, how to operate it and what types of fires it can be used for.

In most cases of fire, the best decision is to get out quickly and stay out.  Do not go back in for anything.  Saving lives is the first priority, objects can be replaced, lives cannot.  Have an emergency exit plan and review it with all family members.  Are doorways clear and do latches work properly?  Next check your emergency exit windows.  Do window latches work and does the window easily open?  Some seasonal campers have structures beside their units.  Make certain these do not compromise the operation of these critical exit options.

It is important to become familiar with your site location.  Those of us familiar with Riverbend will know a site location by lot number.  Even at that there is occasionally confusion between East and West.  First responders, not familiar with the campground rely on site number and road name.  Take note of the road name leading to your site, in case of emergency.

Bird Watching in Southern Alberta

Blue Heron at Riverbend Campground
Blue Heron at Riverbend Campground

Our setting on the banks of the Sheep River features habitat that is favored by a variety of birds.  In addition to the river, we have our small lake and wetlands.  Water fowl are obvious, but we have much more.  Here is our partial list of birds that have made an appearance.  Birds that have nested at Riverbend are indicated with a diamond (◊).  Don’t assume you can view all of these when you come for a visit, we have been compiling this list for many years.  If you see something new we would love if you told us.

Common Loon

◊Pie-Billed Grebe

American White Pelican

Trumpeter Swan

◊Canada Goose

Finch at Okotoks Riverbend Campground

◊Mallard

◊Gadwall

American Wigeon

Northern Shoveler

◊Blue-Winged Teal

◊Green-Winged Teal

◊Cinnamon Teal

Wood Duck

◊Canvasback

Ring-Necked Duck

Osprey nesting near the lake at Riverbend Campground Okotoks
Osprey nesting near the lake at Riverbend Campground Okotoks

Lesser Scoup

Common Goldeneye

Burrow’s Goldeneye

Hooded Merganser

◊Common Merganser

◊Northern Harrier

◊Red-Tailed Hawk

◊Swanson’s Hawk

Bald Eagle

Osprey

◊American Kestrel

◊Ring-Necked Pheasant

◊Gray Partridge

Riverbend Campground Okotoks
Bohemian Waxwing

Great Blue Heron

Black-Crowned Night-Heron

American Bittern

◊Sora

◊American Coot

Semipalmated Plover

◊Killdeer

Lesser Yellowlegs

Solitary Sandpiper

◊Spotted Sandpiper

◊Common Snipe

Franklin’s Gull

Finch at Okotoks Riverbend Campground
Finch at Okotoks Riverbend Campground

Common Tern

Black Tern

◊Mourning Dove

◊Great Horned Owl

◊Downy Woodpecker

◊Eastern Kingbird

◊Barn Swallow

◊Tree Swallow

◊Northern Rough-Winged Swallow

Bluejay

◊Black-Billed Magpie

American Crow

Black-Capped Chickadee

White-Breasted Nuthatch

Red-Breasted Nuthatch

◊House Wren

Brown Thrasher

Gray Catbird

◊American Robin

Swainson’s Thrush

Golden Crowned Kinglet

Water Pipit

◊Cedar Waxwing

Northern Shrike

◊European Starling

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Rumped Warbler

Black Poll Warbler

Palm Warbler

Common Yellow Throat

Oven Bird

Wilson’s Warbler

American Redstart

Western Meadowlark

◊Yellow-Headed Blackbird

◊Red-Winged Blackbird

Common Grackle

◊Brown-Headed Cowbird

Northern Oriole

American Goldfinch

Baird’s Sparrow

Black-Eyed Junco

White-Crowned Sparrow

◊House Sparrow

◊Belted Kingfisher

◊Common Flicker

◊Yellow Bellied Sapsucker

◊Hairy Woodpecker

1 2