BY CATHERINE BROWNLEE, PRESIDENT OF ALBERTA ENTERPRISE GROUP (AEG), CALGARY AND EDMONTON CHAPTERS
The City of Champions, Canada’s Festival City, Gateway to the North, the Oil Capital of Canada; Edmonton is renowned for many things, but did you know our city is also home to the largest urban park in North America? Twenty-two times larger than Central Park, the North Saskatchewan River valley parks system, also known as the Ribbon of Green, encompasses over 18,000 acres of parkland. Throughout the year, no matter the weather, you will find Edmontonians walking, hiking, and biking its many trails. The regional park system was a godsend during the pandemic.
Across the country and around the world, lockdowns sparked unprecedented changes in human behaviour. Something as simple as walking down to the coffee shop to have a latte and bite to eat was out of the question. People were stuck in their homes for most of their waking hours, and the resulting mental-health toll – particularly in the form of depression and anxiety – was staggering. Getting out into nature was one of the few reprieves available, providing people in the region with a much-needed chance to reflect, relax, and recharge.
By introducing this natural asset to thousands of new people, the pandemic inadvertently yet deservedly boosted the profile of the River Valley Alliance (RVA), a not-for-profit organization that is creating a world-class trail system on our back doorstep.
The RVA’s goal is to complete a 100-kilometre continuous connection from Fort Saskatchewan to Devon. Working with the three levels of government, the organization’s work is well underway and includes the Terwillegar and Fort Edmonton footbridges, the Touch the Water Promenade, the funicular, and many kilometres of trail.Unfortunately, the RVA’s current tranche of funding will run out in 2025. The organization hopes to continue working with its municipal, provincial, and federal partners to complete the 26-kilometre gap in the trail system from southwest Edmonton to Parkland County. For the sake of the Capital Region, let’s hope they succeed. Supporting the park and trail system is a smart investment that will pay considerable dividends for decades to come.
In an ever-more competitive global economy, Edmonton is fiercely fighting to attract and retain top talent. Proximity to nature, particularly after the pandemic, is a highly desirable amenity. Offering people a range of low-cost, high-value recreation opportunities is one of the best ways for the city to stand out in a crowded field. It’s little wonder Alberta’s natural assets featured so prominently in the government’s recent campaign to attract skilled workers to the province.
The region’s river valley also holds immense tourism potential. After being cooped up during the pandemic, people are looking to get out and explore again. While we’re not there yet, domestic tourism has almost bounced back to where it was in August 2019. The continent’s largest urban park – one that features sun-dappled woods, skyline vistas, and historic locations rich with fascinating stories of Indigenous peoples and early European settlers – is a tremendous asset for the region to capitalize on.
Later this year, the RVA will unveil the regional trail’s name, which was chosen through collaboration with Indigenous Elders and knowledge keepers. I won’t divulge the name (I can’t, they won’t share it yet!), but I can say it’s a name of Cree origin that reflects the river valley’s storied history and celebrates the place it has held in so many hearts for millennia.
As we look to the horizon, it’s wonderful to know that something so foundational to our city and region will continue to shape its future.