For many Manitobans, Birds Hill Provincial Park is home of the Winnipeg Folk Festival and a great place to ride a bike, go for a ski, or take a short drive.
Yet, a closer look at this park that covers approximately 8,300 acres, or 35.1 square kilometres, reveals it to be a gem of a natural habitat – a mixture of aspen and oak forest with open prairie/savanna, spruce, bog and mixed boreal forest, not often found so close together. And, and all of this – a mere 24 kilometres north of Winnipeg.
This winter I attended a free cross-country ski clinic in Birds Hill Park. I learned valuable tips (mostly about what I was doing wrong) and had fun.
The clinic was sponsored by Friends of Birds Hill Park. They are a membership-based group committed to the conservation of the park.
Prior to their board meeting Apr. 15, guest speaker John Morgan of Prairie Habitats Inc. presented Native prairies in Manitoba.
Morgan, who is co-author of the book, Restoring Canada’s Native Prairies, shared his knowledge and passion for the prairie ecosystem with the group. He spoke about how invasive species crowd out native plants. Did you know Canada thistle is not native to Canada? Unfortunately, Birds Hill Park has this and other invasive species.
On a positive note, the park has some endangered plants, such as the western silvery aster and several species of rare orchids. Also found in the park are the beautiful native prairie crocus and three-flowered avens.
Birds Hill Park is a unique biologically diverse mix of prairies, parkland forest, wet meadows and bogs. The sand and gravel deposited from melting glaciers in the soil is not conducive to good agriculture, so most of it was left in its natural state.
In the 1960’s, the Government of Manitoba had the foresight to set aside the area as a provincial park. It was opened on July 15, 1967 to celebrate Canada’s 100th birthday.
The Province manages the park, and Friends of Birds Hill Park, a separate entity, works cooperatively with government. The organization is focused on preserving the ecological integrity of the park’s natural landscapes.
Friends of Birds Hill Park are a registered charity and welcome donations or sponsors. Membership is only $15. Members receive their newsletters and are informed of upcoming events and volunteer opportunities.
They host events such as an annual park clean-up and barbeque. They organize invasive plant pulls with members and volunteers, and occasionally bring in guest speakers.
Their belief is that the more people understand natural ecosystems, the more likely they are to protect them. They are currently working on a poster to be distributed to about 14,000 homes around the park. It reads,“Stop the Spread”, encouraging people to identify invasive species, and providing basic instructions on how to get rid of them.
In 2013, Friends of Birds Hill Park were proud to receive a $25,000 grant from the Shell Fuelling Change program for their Cedar Bog Trail restoration project. Shell granted this money for projects that were voted on by their customers to help improve and restore Canada’s environment.
Working with Manitoba Conversation, Water Stewardship and park staff on the Cedar bog project, they are rehabilitating degraded areas by planting native species and removing invasive species, developing an environmentally sound plan for trail restoration and educating school groups.
Two upcoming free events at Birds Hill Park:
- Guided Hike – Cedar Bog Trail – Saturday, May 16. Discover the plant species found along the trail.
- Weed Watchers Plant ID & Surveying – Sunday, May 17. Learn what plants are invasive in the park, how to identify them and then take part in surveying the landscape using GPS to map out plants in the park (GPS devices provided).
Too many to mention all, some activities to enjoy in Birds Hill Park are: camping, swimming, hiking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, geocaching, biking, rollerblading, horse-back riding, bird-watching, nature photography, etc.
One of my favorite memories in the park was when my neighbours and I took our kids in August to watch the Perseids (meteor shower). We plopped ourselves down in the middle of a grassy area on blankets and enjoyed the show away from the city lights.
There is nothing like the sound of the spring peeper frogs in the spring, the smell of the forest in the fall, spotting wildlife, or feeding chickadees right from your hand (bring black-oil sunflower seeds – they love it).
To visit Birds Hill Park, travel along highway 59 approximately 24 km (15 mi.) north of Winnipeg.
For more info, check out the following web pages: