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Meewasin starts work on trail through the Northeast Swale

The Meewasin Valley Authority took the first tangible steps toward implementing its master plan to protect the ecologically sensitive Northeast Swale this week.

Work began Thursday on building a 2.2-kilometre trail network through the swale that is intended to both accommodate those who want to enjoy the area just north of the Silverspring and Evergreen neighbourhoods and discourage those who misuse the area.

The trail system will include six nodes that will feature benches, garbage cans and interpretive panels. The trail is being built along a three-metre-wide swath that has already been disturbed by human activity.

 Alan Otterbein, Meewasin’s design and development manager, explained the development at the swale reflects the agency’s ongoing efforts to balance conservation with recreation.

“What we’re trying to create here is an access to the swale, which has significant ecological value,” Otterbein said in an interview at the swale Friday.

“So we’re trying to promote human activity on the site in specific areas and allow for some education and interpretation of the site and really reduce the impacts of negative behaviour like dumping and off-road vehicle use, partying, that sort of thing that has been happening out here on occasion.”

Pedestrians and cyclists will be able to access the gravel trail once it is completed by access points along Fedoruk Road at the intersections of Central Avenue, Konihowski Road and Zary Road. The trail will also be wheelchair accessible, which means no greater slope than five per cent.

On Friday, two compact loaders were moving earth to make way for the trail. Any patches disturbed by the building of the trail will be replanted with native grass, said Renny Gilz, Meewasin’s resource management officer.

While Meewasin is building the trail, the City of Saskatoon is paying for the improvements to the swale with $500,000 this year and next. The city will also maintain the site by picking up garbage.

The rest of the first phase of the swale master plan includes planting native grasses on the edge of a storm water dry pond and a wet pond in the swale. This effort could take 10 to 12 years.

A beaver has built a home in the wet pond and some endangered northern leopard frogs have also been spotted in the pond, Otterbein said. Meewasin also plans to install wildlife-friendly fencing along the swale’s edge next to the developing Aspen Ridge neighbourhood.

Conservation efforts are important in the swale since, one day, the city’s growth plans could result in 40,000 people living north and south of the area. The trail is expected to be completed in the fall.

Meewasin is holding a bio-blitz at the swale on Wednesday, July 26 when the public is welcomed to help collect information on biodiversity in the swale. The blitz runs from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. with an interpretive hike through the swale at 7 p.m.

Anyone wanting more information can contact Grilz at 306-262-4970 or rgrilz@meewasin.com.

The swale is a 26-kilometre-long scar created by retreating glaciers 10,000 years ago that covers 2,800 hectares. Five kilometres of the west end of the swale is located within Saskatoon city limits.

The glacial scar left behind a rare and disappearing example of ancient native prairie and the high degree of biodiversity that comes with it. More than 200 plant species and more than 100 bird species call the swale home.

Otterbein said the recreation area of the swale will be established on the western end of the swale area that lies within the city.                

ptank@postmedia.com

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