For many Calgarians outdoor recreation is part of who we are. We are extremely fortunate that the Rocky Mountains are only a short drive away, so we make the trek nearly every weekend, but if you were to look at a topographic map you’d see that Calgary has several prominent green spaces within its city limits. Nose Hill, Fish Creek, Weaselhead, and Inglewood Wildlands are all parks that quickly come to mind. Another one that may not be as large, but is definitely just as popular, is Paskaoo Slopes (please note the Paskapoo Slopes area was renamed Medicine Hill by Calgary City Council on March 7, 2016). If you aren’t familiar with the area, the Slopes occupy the land immediately east of WinSport’s Canada Olympic Park, south of the Trans-Canada Highway, west of Sarcee Trail, and north of the communities of Cougar Ridge and West Springs on the western side of the city.
The Paskapoo Slopes are a significant environmental feature and are quite prominent from various vantage points throughout the city. The entire area was formed during the last Ice Age, also known as the Pleistocene Epoch, by the action and movement of Glacial Lake Calgary. The resulting sculpture is a series of six benches divided by twelve separate ravines. Today the escarpment is characterized by several natural features like steep gullies, underground springs, narrow streams, a noticeable glacial erratic, and an assortment of flora and fauna. The entire area is also part of a much larger wildlife corridor that connects the Bow River Valley to the foothills beyond.
Natural beauty aside, the area is also rich in history. Pre-contact First Nation people used the area extensively, especially during the cold winter months. The height of the ridge offered unimpeded views of the surrounding prairies and the Bow River Valley. Much like Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump in the southwest corner of the province, Paskapoo’s steep walls provided the perfect location for a unique hunting method known as buffalo jumping. Archaeological evidence from the area has uncovered buffalo kill and processing sites, as well as sweat pits, camps, fireplaces, beads, projectile points, and bones. The area has been extensively studied since the early 1990’s and 49 noteworthy sites have already been uncovered. That is pretty remarkable considering the relatively small size of the Paskapoo area.
In 1960, members of the University of Alberta Ski Team spearheaded the development of Paskapoo Ski Area, which eventually hosted the World Cup Freestyle Event in 1981. In preparation for the 1988 Olympic Winter Games the Calgary Olympic Development Association (CODA) turned the Paskapoo Ski Area into what is now known as, Canada Olympic Park (COP); the premiere site for the ski jumping, bobsleigh, and luge events during the games. Today COP is operated by WinSport and the grounds are home to several facilities for amateur and national team athletes in training, such as ski jumping, alpine racing, aerials, moguls, halfpipe, cross-country skiing, bobsleigh, luge, skeleton, and ice hockey.
In addition to COP, WinSport also established a network of trails throughout the Paskapoo area that are frequented by Calgarians every month of the year in pursuit of in-town hiking, mountain biking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, dog walking, trail running, and a host of other recreational pursuits. The best part about this urban trail system is that it’s entirely free of charge, making it extremely desirable when a trip further west isn’t possible.
Other than the trail system, the undeveloped area to the east of COP sits relatively untouched, but that could all change in the near future. Recently Trinity Development Group, a commercial property developer, purchased the 260-acre Paskapoo Slopes area from WinSport and are planning on building an urban village that would consist of homes, office space, and a hotel. They’ve also stated that 160 of those acres will be donated back to the City of Calgary and will remain undisturbed for the continued enjoyment of outdoor recreationalists. Subsequent to Trinity Hills being unveiled, Save The Slopes, a campaign to curb develop in the Paskapoo area, was born. The group’s ultimate goal is to have the City of Calgary acquire Paskapoo Slopes and have it preserved as a regional park.
It remains to be seen how this will all unfold in the coming weeks and months, but until then take advantage of the great weather Calgary has been having and explore the Paskapoo Slopes. Walk the dog, ride your bike, or go for a run and just enjoy this beautiful piece of parkland that resides on Calgary’s western edge. You won’t regret it and, who knows, I might just see you out there!
*featured image (at top) is just one of the many multi-use trails in the Paskapoo Slopes area. Photo Credit: Tyler Dixon