July 19, 2022
Adventure, natural beauty, and key moments in Canadian history. What a great combination. AWA President Jim Campbell, member Bob Patterson, and Conservation Specialist Phillip Meintzer found it all on the Oldman River between Fort MacLeod and Lethbridge. Marking Jim’s 70th birthday, the three of them set out on July 11th on a Paddling Adventure down the river. Jim and Phillip here share their perspectives on the trip.
AWA President Jim Campbell writes:
This was the 3rd annual Adventure for Wilderness for Jim Campbell and Bob Patterson, and this year we were fortunate to have AWA Conservation Specialist, Phillip Meintzer join us as we explored a stretch of the Oldman River, that offered many happy surprises over two days, and 90+ kilometres of paddling.
The first bonus was an evening in Fort MacLeod. Walking the historic main street and visiting the site of the original N.W.M.P. post brought surprises and reflections. Who knew the internationally renowned, Joni Mitchell, was born here? And the commemorative plaque placed in 1926 at the site of the original Fort MacLeod spoke of a different time and perspective. MacLeod’s Restaurant & Lounge with a delicious 2 for 1 pizza capped off the evening.
We launched on a sunny, warm morning from the Oldman River Provincial Recreation Area at the junction of Highways 2 and 3. Paddling by Fort MacLeod in good Class I water provided a clear view of the town, and why the original Fort was ultimately moved to higher ground.
Not long after that Phillip fortuitously looked back upstream and spotted a cow moose and her two calves crossing the river behind us. Another surprise and delight for the morning. The day rolled on with clear, fast water and great bird activity including an Osprey hovering over the river, and then plunging into the water to clutch its prize and fly close by over our heads. Signs of agriculture and irrigation also abounded drawing our thoughts to plans for three new reservoirs in this basin. How do we reconcile all the competing demands on this vibrant but vulnerable eco-system?
Ever innovative, Bob in his solo canoe switched to a kayak paddle and easily kept pace with Phillip and me. As we passed under the bridge to Monarch there was no sign of the campground mentioned in the guidebook from 1982, the only one we found that referenced this part of the river. We paddled on and at Kilometre 57 found a beautiful stretch of island shoreline to make camp.
Next morning dawned equally warm and sunny. A few more kilometres on a good Class II rapid with large standing waves helped stir us awake, and we paddled on ever watchful of what was around the next bend. Finally swinging north, we landed at Popson Park at the south end of Lethbridge where our new friend, Kirby England, met us for a quick shuttle back to Fort MacLeod. Thank you Kirby!
Thanks to all who so generously supported this Adventure for Wilderness. You can be certain your donations are deeply appreciated and will be well used in support of conserving Alberta’s wildlife and wild places.
P.S. If you do this stretch remember to bring your own water! Happy Paddling!
AWA Conservation Specialist Phillip Meintzer also shares his perspective on the trip:
Departing from the Oldman River Provincial Recreation Area outside of Fort Macleod on the morning of Monday July 11th, Jim, Bob, and Phillip set off on their journey towards Lethbridge to explore this reach of the Oldman River.
This section of the Oldman River is relatively under-paddled, or at least under-documented, which meant that the route felt like a genuine adventure into the unknown. The water levels and in-stream flows of the river were better than anticipated, which made for fairly quick and hazard-free paddling for the majority of the trip. Under cloudless skies and amid the warmest stretch of weather we have experienced so far this summer, the conditions couldn’t have been much better for two days on the water.
The trip covered roughly 92 kilometres in total – 57 on Monday, and the final 35 on Tuesday. Surrounded by impressive cliff faces with lush riparian areas, the group saw plenty of wildlife including three moose (a mother with two calves), two coyotes (one swimming), numerous pelicans, threatened bank swallows and their nesting sites, bald eagles, two beavers, and a few ospreys.
The trip finished just south of Lethbridge, where the crew pulled out at Popson Park and were picked up and shuttled back to Fort Macleod by Kirby England – a professional biologist and environmental science instructor from Lethbridge College.
This adventure was organized as a celebration of AWA President Jim Campbell’s 70th birthday and to raise awareness for water conservation issues in southern Alberta watersheds. The trip was a success, and it made us curious why more people don’t paddle this portion of the river?
Although water levels and water quality seemed to be better than the group was expecting – possibly due to recent rains across the prairies – we need to recognize that climate change will make good years increasingly less likely as we bounce between periods of droughts or flooding.