Canada's largest man-made storm water treatment wetland may not be the obvious place to spend a few hours on a sunny day but Ralph Klein Park has plenty to offer visitors, with interpretive trails, bird-watching and public drop-in sessions in the summer.
Opened in 2011, Ralph Klein Park is Calgary's newest major park, comprising the 385 acre Shephard Wetland and the Ralph Klein Environmental Education and Ethics Centre. A public information corridor in the Centre explains how rain water is channelled from east of the city by canal to the wetland 'cells' or ponds where plants and micro-organisms help remove pollutants from the water before it is released into the Bow River. Touch screen displays and videos about water conservation and the work of the wetlands make this information accessible to adults and children alike. The Centre also includes study areas, classrooms and a resource library.
The Ralph Klein Environmental Education and Ethics Centre
Once you have spent some time learning about the wetlands, you can take a walk along one of the trails. I chose the 1km trail which starts from the car park, where there is an abundance of insect and bird life, including pelicans, which can be seen taking off and landing en masse on the myriad ponds.
It is also worth taking a walk round the outside of the Environmental Education Centre to look at the monoliths and pyramids comprising 'Hawk Hill Calgary Sentinels', a work of art by sculptor Beverly Pepper, reflecting the importance of the weltands as part of Calgary's legacy.
The Environmental Education Centre was constructed with sustainability in mind and is a fine example of modern architecture. Sympathetic to its surrounding environment, it stands on an artificial island connected to the wetlands by a series of bridges. Orientated to maximise the use of natural light, the Centre is made primarily of wood and incorporates easily recycled materials such as zinc and concrete. It has low flush toilets and waterless urinals, photo voltaic cells, solar panels and a green roof. The sustainability message is reinforced on the inside of the toilet doors where pictograms serve as a reminder how not to waste water in the bathroom.
Inside the Ralph Klein Environmental Education and Ethics Centre, Ralph Klein Park, Calgary
Summer drop-in sessions for families include a wetland bug safari every Tuesday afternoon and 'What Bird is That?' every Thursday afternoon. These free activities run through July and August and do not require registration in advance. The Environmental Education Centre also runs a series of programmes throughout the summer on topics such as 'Photography in Nature', 'Pond dipping' and 'Animal Evidence'.
The park is named after former Mayor of Calgary and Premier of Alberta Ralph Klein. It is located about 24km south east of Calgary, accessible via the Glenmore Trail or Stoney Trail NE freeways.