Nature and education Cross in the foothills
Outdoors: Conservation area offers a piece of paradise
By: Bruce Campbell
| Posted: Wednesday, Aug 03, 2011 10:23 am
A foothills philanthropist’s donation will mean a piece of paradise will remain in the foothills regardless if nearby Calgary continues to grow.
The Ann and Sandy Cross Conservation Area consists of 4,800 acres just west of Red Deer Lake, which was donated by Ann and Sandy Cross to be used for the protection of wildlife habitat and most importantly, conservation education.
“Mr. Cross’ vision was to preserve this area for the people – and particularly the children – of Alberta to keep in touch with nature,” said Greg Shyba, CEO of the Cross Conservation Area. “We have this 4,800 acres here that we are managing to ensure we can keep it environmentally pure as possible.”
Sandy passed away in 2003.
The Cross Conservation Area offers 22.7 kilometres of hiking trails, ranging from the 2.2 kilometre easy Gravel Path to the difficult 8.8 kilometre Pine Creek Trail with its seven hills.
They all offer spectacular views of the foothills and mountains and a chance to relax, despite the Cross Conservation Area being just off Highway 22X and its access to south Calgary.
There is plenty to see.
Shortly after leaving the Belvedere House Education Centre at the conservation area for a short hike, Shyba points to a coyote den with young pups.
“Yesterday we came upon two coyotes who were trying to get a fawn,” Shyba said. “We were able to scare them off, but the fawn maybe a goner now. You never know.
The conservation area is a haven for wildlife.
He said there are whitetail deer, mule deer, several birds, coyotes, and an estimated 220 elk. It’s also home to the odd bear and cougar.
“We have never had problems with cougars or bears,” Shyba said. “If there was evidence of cougars or bears, we would definitely warn people.”
It also happens to be one of the best places in North America to watch red-tail hawks.
Shyba stopped at the intersection of the Fescue and Ranch trails, which offers a majestic view of the Rockies to the west.
“This is my favourite part of the area because of the vista,” he said. “If you turn yourself 360 degrees you will see the mountains to the west, the beautiful foothills landscape to the south and east and Calgary to the north.”
Cross Conservation is also a place where one can stop and smell the roses.
“One of the things I love is all the smells out here. Some days, you can just smell the wild roses everywhere,” Shyba said.
Volunteers come out regularly to the Cross Conservation Area to identify the flowers. They are then listed on the facility’s web site.
A pond along the route offers s a spot for families to stop and rest – and learn.
“You can see the tadpoles in there and we will bring nets down here so the kids can catch them and take a look,” Shyba said.
Peter Howie, from Calgary, was also visiting the Cross area on July 15,
“It’s just a nice place,” he said. “It’s quiet, it’s scenic and the smells. There are a lot of different smells. The grass, the willows, the roses.”
Howie said the Cross Conservation area also provides a place for parents to bring their children to get out of the urban area now and then.
That is one of the things the Crosses had intended when they donated 2,000 acres in 1991 and then additional 2,800 acres in 1996.
One of the mandates of the Cross Conservation is to educate the public. Between 5,000 and 6,000 students visit the area every year, including several from both the Foothills and Christ the Redeemer school divisions.
Zach Fisher, a student at Big Rock School, was attending one of the weekly summer camps at the Cross Conservation area on July 15.
“It is awesome,” Fisher said. “We get to do activities and go on lots of hikes. We learned about worms, birds and bats. The hikes aren’t too hard.”
The cost to hike at the Cross Conservation area is $2. Visitors are asked to pre-register on the site on the Ann and Sandy Cross Conservation Area website at www.cross
For more information pick up a copy of Paradise Preserved – The Ann and Sandy Cross Conservation Area by award-winning outdoor writer Bruce Masterman and photographs by Mike Sturk at the Belvedere House Education Centre at the Cross Conservation Area. To get to the conservation area, go west on Highway 22X from Highway 2A then turn south at 160th SW.