By Cliff Speer
Ness Creek Journal, Spring 2001
The spring issue of the Ness Creek Journal caught my eye with an article about creating a “greener” Festival. The Festival organizers are going to expand the Eco Village and integrate an ecological ethic into the Festival operation. The Ness Creek Music Festival becoming a model of an eco-friendly tourism attraction is timely and laudable. More and more tourism businesses and attractions are exploring ways of greening their operations in keeping with an increasing public interest in environmental stewardship.
Back in Saskatoon, home of the Festival office where these green ideas take shape, there are fabulous ecological resources on our doorstep that also deserve our environmental stewardship attention. The foremost one that comes to mind is the South Saskatchewan River. Saskatoon without the river would be a dull and lifeless place, scenically and ecologically speaking. The river valley gives the City its character and its sense of place in the larger landscape. It is Saskatoon’s premier heritage attraction and a rich natural endowment that deserves our respect and best conservation efforts.
One of the local organizations providing conservation leadership and opportunities for individuals to be environmental stewards of the river valley is the Meewasin Valley Authority. Best known by locals for building the riverbank trails frequented by hikers and cyclists, the MVA also offers lots of opportunities for Saskatonians to help care for the river valley and keep it beautiful. Volunteers are welcome to get involved in the annual riverbank cleanup, help plant and weed trees, be a Trail Ambassador, and contribute to numerous other projects. According to Meewasin’s records, volunteers put in over 3800 hours of river stewardship efforts in 2000.
Partners FOR the Saskatchewan River Basin is another river stewardship organization involving projects throughout the prairie region. They have a new water monitoring program called Water Watchdog, designed for classrooms, youth groups, and families. The program has hands-on activities, games, and discussions exploring areas like water conservation, water quality, and stewardship. To get your group involved in pilot testing the program during the coming summer season, call (306) 665-6887 or 1-800-567-8007.
A good entry point for developing awareness and a passion for protecting the river valley is to have a close-up personal encounter with the river itself. I can’t think of a better way of doing this than by stepping into a canoe and taking a leisurely paddle. Having a first-hand experience with that incredible moving, living, aquatic being we call the river, will inspire your ownership instincts. And that may be the essence of stewardship — caring for Nature’s gift as if it were your own.
Along with taking ownership, you’ll experience the exhilaration that physical interaction with Nature brings. Pulling your paddle through the rippling waters, and moving under your own power will give you a feeling of freedom hard to match elsewhere. There are no curbs, no lanes, no lights, and virtually no traffic. Nobody is going to pull you over with a screaming siren for not obeying the speed limit, but the rules are there, only they’re in the form of a subtle code of conduct called environmental ethics.
Making this elementary experience with river valley stewardship a reality, if the canoeing route appeals to you, are a couple of eco-oriented local organizations. First, and no surprise, is the Meewasin Valley Authority, providing amongst its many services, 8-person voyageur canoe tours on the South Saskatchewan. Their short, half-day River Meander Canoe Tours start from the MVA Poplar Bluffs canoe launch and paddle downstream about 12 kilometres to Saskatoon. For a brochure or more tour info, contact Meewasin at 306-665-6887 or visit www.meewasin.com.
CanoeSki Discovery Company is the other organization providing eco-adventure tours. CanoeSki picks up where Meewasin leaves off by providing longer overnight canoe camping tours from 2 days to 2 weeks, on the River and in northern Saskatchewan. Urban Canoe Camping is one CanoeSki tour designed as an easy-going weekend introduction to wilderness-style canoe camping close to the City.
Another river program, entitled South Saskatchewan Cranes and Colors, is a series of September weekend and day tours, taking in spectacular autumn colors and abundant flocks of migrating waterfowl. For a brochure or more tour info, contact CanoeSki at 306-653-5693 or visit www.canoeski.com.
Taking advantage of Meewasin or CanoeSki canoe tours to get an intimate acquaintance with the river is a smart way to start. Leave all the hassles of arranging equipment, logistics, meals, transportation, and guiding to the experts. That frees you to revel in Nature, soak up the wilderness ambience and experience a natural high, unencumbered.
The finale to such an encounter will be a new appreciation of our natural heritage and a desire to be an environmental steward of a greener river valley.