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Big Hill Creek Preservation Society: stewards of the land

Gerry Bietz looks across the expansive valley nestled in the Bighill Creek watershed, pointing to nesting areas for Great Blue Heron, grazing land for mule and whitetail deer, and a flowing creek with various species of brown, rainbow and brook trout

Gerry Bietz looks across the expansive valley nestled in the Bighill Creek watershed, pointing to nesting areas for Great Blue Heron, grazing land for mule and whitetail deer, and a flowing creek with various species of brown, rainbow and brook trouts. The president of the Bighill Creek Preservation Society – whose mandate is to protect, preserve and promote responsible use of the Bighill Creek watershed – acknowledges the passionate volunteers who work diligently to achieve the society's mandate. "We are the stewards of these reserves ... in my  mind, this is like a natural library," said Bietz, who lives north of Cochrane on an acreage. "I look out my window and I can see the edge of the escarpment." The society will be hosting its annual general meeting on Nov. 17 – a meeting that anyone is welcome to attend at Spray Lake Sawmills Family Sports Centre. The southern tip of the watershed can be found a short drive along the gravel road that is at the end of the paved Fourth Avenue North that runs through downtown Cochrane, up the hill into the community of Cochrane Heights. Not far down the dirt road, a little bridge that crosses the creek marks the reserve territory that the society cares for, bordering on Franciscan Retreat lands – taking account of the seasonal shifts and human interface that impacts the soil, water, trails, fish and wildlife. Bietz points to cliffs where hawks and falcons nest and to the valley below where bears, deer and other fish and even cougar can be viewed at times of the year. For him, it's a gracious responsibility to preserve what is enjoyed today for the generations of tomorrow. Topical for the society is Rocky View County's plans to allow for three additional gravel pits along Big Hill Springs Road. The society's position is that more hydrology assessments and research should be undertaken prior to approving applicants – in order to satisfy "big risks" posed by gravel pit operations in the watershed. On the heels of their first year of water quality analysis, funded through a number of local and provincial riparian societies/committees, Dr. Ymene Fouli's findings uncovered excellent water quality at most of the five sampling areas, as flows from Big Hill Springs; the area above Highway 567 tested for higher than average organic matter and there were some contaminate problems located within the Town of Cochrane. The society is applying for grant dollars to fund a second year of water quality analysis to help establish a baseline for their research and record keeping. Dr. Ken Stephenson of the society, with the help of Trout Unlimited, conducted an electro-fishing study to survey fish populations in Big Hill Creek. June samples indicated that water quality, pH, temperature and volume were all of excellent quality. Although once native to this channel of water, West Slope Cutthroat Trout were nowhere to be found. However, in their place,  several introduced species were found in abundance – rainbow, brown and brook trout among them. "The numbers and variety of fish and high quality of the water in the creek indicate a viable fishery with opportunities for habitat improvement. This work creates a baseline of data for comparison to future riparian health analysis." said Bietz in a recent press release. In 2019, the society is hoping to secure grant dollars to fund an in-depth study by Cows and Fish: Alberta Habitat Management Society of riparian area and beaver activities in the lower eight kilometres of the creek. The society is also looking to test "pond levellers" – which work to maintain levels of beaver ponds so that beavers can continue to live and work in the pond without flooding out roads or pastures. The spring will also see the society undertake insect studies, for which it is seeking local expertise. To learn more visit bighillcreek.ca.


Lindsay  Seewalt

About the Author: Lindsay Seewalt

Lindsay is a senior Eagle reporter who has transformed her penchant for storytelling into the craft of writing.
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