May long weekend typically marks the unofficial start of camping season in Alberta. While we will need to wait a little longer to camp this year; some of the best paddling is available in the spring and it does not need to wait. Stand up paddle boarding offers great physical distancing opportunities as long as your route to and from the water is given proper consideration as well. Best of all, there are plenty of options to paddle right in and around Edmonton.
Edmonton experiences spring melt and run-off during March and April every year (late April this year). By May, all nearby lakes and rivers are open, and water levels are high. This makes May the best time for exploring small and shallow waterways that won't be accessible later in the season. These are also the safest places to paddle when the water is cold. These are my picks for May:
The Sturgeon River flows between Big Lake in northwest Edmonton, through St. Albert, and ultimately into the North Saskatchewan River, near Fort Saskatchewan. The section between Big Lake and downtown St. Albert is a beautiful paddle only accessible when water levels are high. The river passes under many bridges, including an iconic CN trestle bridge (built in 1907), and offers views of downtown. Wildlife sightings are guaranteed; with beavers, muskrats, ducks and geese most likely to be present. This paddle is a must do before water levels drop and it becomes less accessible.
Parking and water access is available from Riel Recreation Park and downtown St. Albert.
Nestled at the confluence of the Kennedale Ravine and the North Saskatchewan River is one of Edmonton's most scenic and natural parks. Hermitage Park features open grasslands, steep hills, treed hikes. and (most importantly) a pond that you are permitted to paddle on. Sometimes the pond is even stocked with fish.
Hermitage Park is a great place to bring the family on the long weekend. You can bring your dog, have a picnic with a campfire, take a hike and go for a paddle in a safe body of water. While you're at Hermitage, be sure to visit the tornado memorial at the north end of the pond.
For the more adventurous paddler, springtime provides a unique opportunity as spring run-off fills the banks of the Whitemud Creek. By May, April's class I to II whitewater sections have become smaller riffles, and by June exposed rocks will replace the open water. Time is really of the essence with this one. If you have river experience, grab a buddy for safety and take advantage of this unique opportunity to experience the Whitemud Ravine from the water. You won't regret it.
The entire stretch of the creek within city limits is navigable during high water, but a common place to start is just upstream of Snow Valley in the Whitemud Park parking lot. From there, it should take about 1.5 hours to get to the river. Paddlers must be aware that tree falls are common in the ravine and present a hazard that must be respected. If starting further upstream, beaver dams will also be present. No matter where you start, be alert for hazards, and expect to portage several times along your route.
North Saskatchewan River - Always a great option. Be aware that spring means colder water and stronger currents. Make sure your take-out location is safe before you launch.
Astotin Lake (Elk Island National Park) - Access is currently closed due to covid 19. If it opens in May, the beach, many islands and bison will be worth the trip.
Big Lake - If you launch on the Sturgeon River and go southwest instead of northeast, you'll hit Big Lake. Great for longer paddles, bird watching and sunsets.
Telford Lake (Leduc) - Long and narrow lake with a lot of parking and great water access. Home of the Leduc Boat Club.
Chickakoo Lake (Parkland County) - Currently closed due to covid 19. When open, it is an excellent picnic and day use paddling alternative to Heritage Park for those west of Edmonton.
This list is just scratching the surface and will grow over time. Feel free to include your own suggestions in the comments below or email your favourite spots to firstname.lastname@example.org to have them added. My June list will be coming out in a couple weeks. Safe paddling.
Spring is here, and for the paddler this is usually cause for celebration, but things are different this year... It may be sunny outside, but there's a cloud of uncertainty in many of our minds. In an era of parks closures, physical distancing, shelter-in-place, and economic shut down, can we even go out for a paddle? If we can go, is it selfish?
I don't have all the answers or a degree in pathology, but I can share my views and my plans for Chad Has a Paddle:
Can we go out for a paddle?
Absolutely! But there are factors we must consider:
1. Is access to the lake/river open?
As of May 2, vehicle access to national parks is closed. Vehicle access to provincial parks is now open, and some boat launches are open, but access to facilities (i.e. bathrooms) remains closed. I recommend checking the Parks Canada and Alberta Parks websites for the latest information.
City of Edmonton parks are open, with the exception of some off-leash dog parks. This means that access to the North Saskatchewan River and Hermitage Pond is available. The Sturgeon River in St. Albert is accessible through Riel Recreation Park and is an excellent springtime paddling spot.
2. Can you manage Covid-19 transmission vectors before, during, and after your paddle?
Practicing physical distancing on a SUP is pretty easy, but what about in the parking lot? A key to flattening the curve and preventing future spikes is to ensure that infected individuals (who may be asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic) infect less than 1 other person on average. This essentially means that ideally no one outside our own household should become sick if we become carriers of the virus. Community spread is something to be avoided and will require extreme diligence, even as the economy re-opens.
Everyone must evaluate the risks for themselves, but this is what I consider before choosing to paddle:
3. Is the water safe to paddle?
Covid-19 doesn't make other safety concerns any less relevant. Spring means cold water, higher than usual flows with more debris in the water. Sweepers and ice jams may be present and careful planning is required. Always dress for the water temperature (not just the air temperature), bring spare clothes, check the weather and check the river flow information if headed out onto a river. Avoid larger lakes in cold water and stay close to shore. Wear a lifejacket and use a leash (quick-release in whitewater). Always leave a detailed float plan, and paddle with a buddy whenever possible.
We absolutely can paddle during these difficult times, and I believe it helps both our mental and physical well being. But we also must be responsible citizens, and consider the impacts of our actions. I don't expect that everyone will agree with me on every point, but I think the consideration itself is important. A responsible paddler considers their impact on others and the environment (that other looming crisis), a selfish paddler does not.
How is Covid-19 Impacting Chad Has A Paddle?
My goal with this business is to enable people to learn and enjoy stand up paddle boarding safely. Covid-19 doesn't change this, but it will change this season's operations a little:
Firstly, the business must be permitted to operate. Secondly, the services offered must change for this new normal. Chad Has A Paddle currently offers 3 different services, and each of these are impacted differently:
Used SUP Sales
Used SUP sales are not impacted by the current restrictions. I do not operate a storefront and instead deliver the boards within the Edmonton area for free. This can be done while respecting physical distancing and with contactless payment. The prices for our oldest models have been significantly reduced, if you're looking for a quality board and want to support local, this is a great time. Paddles are available (with board purchase only) for an additional $100. Any board purchase includes basic SUP training for free, as soon as that training can safely be provided.
While SUP rentals are delivered in the same manner as Used SUPs, and could arguably be delivered under the current restrictions, I believe it is most appropriate to wait for Stage 1 of the Alberta's Re-launch Strategy. Stage 1 has a focus on outdoor activities and is tentatively scheduled for May 14. SUP rentals will be available once Alberta enters Stage 1.
Prior to Stage 1, I will be evaluating and enhancing sanitation practices for rental equipment in a Covid-19 world. Based on the available information on how long the virus remains on surfaces, its susceptibility to UV light, and the fact that most rental equipment is only used on weekends, I understand the risk to be extremely low. However, you can rest assured that boards, paddles, life jackets and leashes will be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected between rentals.
SUP Instruction requires the same diligence with respect to equipment that rentals need and adds a few new challenges. Instruction involves bringing a group of up to 7 people (including the instructor) together in the same space. In addition to waiting for Stage 1 of Alberta's Re-launch Strategy, Instruction must also wait for the go-ahead from Paddle Canada. The earliest this could occur is June 1.
After receiving the go-ahead from Paddle Canada, Chad Has A Paddle will offer lessons with a few changes until the Covid-19 threat has passed:
These measures are being taken out of an abundance of caution, as there is messaging from some health authorities that the risk of transmission outdoors appears to be minimal, but there are still a lot of unknowns and disagreements. Safety is always my #1 priority. Paddle season is short enough already; I want everyone to stay healthy so we can enjoy all of it.
My business was born out of a desire to introduce people to not only SUP, but our local waterways as well. When I first paddled the North Saskatchewan River, I was absolutely floored. I was blown away by how beautiful the river valley in Edmonton was of course, but also by how few people were actually experiencing it. Why wasn't this better promoted? Why did I live in Edmonton for a decade before venturing onto the river? How many others were similarly missing out, and what could I do to help change this? This remains a primary goal, and I had planned to add tours the services Chad Has A Paddle provides this year, but they may need to wait.
Operating tours on the river requires a shuttle between start and finish, which makes physical distancing much more challenging. Also, like with lessons, having open tour dates would bring people from different households and social circles together. In normal times this is a great outcome, as you can never have enough paddling friends, but it is something to be avoided during a pandemic.
The pandemic is not without its personal challenges as well. This past winter I left my job to travel New Zealand and planned to get a new job in Edmonton this spring. Covid-19 has made this much more challenging. While I'd love for my SUP business to be successful enough to support me, the reality is that it can't do that in its current form. I'm continuing my job search, and if that pulls me away from Edmonton, the nature of services I can provide in Edmonton will have to change as well. Rest assured that I am dedicated to Edmonton, and growing the sport here. No matter where I end up, my heart is here and will services will continue here, even if they do change in form.
I hope to see everyone out on the water (from 2m away) soon!
Summed Up in a 360 Degree Photo
If you ask me why I love paddling on the North Saskatchewan River, I could simply point to this picture. It encapsulates the elements that I believe make paddling through Edmonton feel incredible. Here's why:
1. Bridge Architecture: if you imagine the "tiny planet" in the photo as a clock, a white bridge denotes the 12 o’clock position. The Walterdale Bridge is one of Edmonton’s most iconic structures, and a magnificent feet of engineering; using thrust-blocks instead of piers to span the 200m wide river. It is certainly not the only bridge you’ll come across though. A leisurely 1.5 hour paddle from Whitemud Park to Louise McKinney Riverfront Park will bring you under 6 different bridges. Other structures overlooking, and visible from, the river include Keillor Point (aka End of the World), and the Funicular.
2. History: if you look at the 1 o’clock position and squint a little, you’ll see the distinctive chimneys of the Rossdale Power Plant; which began operations in 1902 and produced power until 2008. The City is now looking at repurposing the space while preserving the heritage of the site, which is really exciting news for the river valley. Hotel McDonald is also prominently visible from the water. While not nearly as old, the Edmonton Riverboat (formerly River Queen), is back in operation as it approaches the quarter century mark. Traveling past the York boat at Fort Edmonton Park is a great reminder that the river, as a trading route, predates Edmonton as a city, and Alberta as a province. The river is also dynamic, with no greater evidence than the (still visible) manholes that went over the bank after a landslide destroyed three homes in 1999.
3. Downtown Skyline: between 4 and 6 o’clock you can see the towers in downtown Edmonton start to dominate the horizon. Edmonton is currently experiencing its greatest period of high rise construction in decades; in part spurred on by the removal of a downtown height restriction, investment in the Ice District, as well as a focus on revitalizing the core. When paddling on the North Saskatchewan, the appearance of the downtown core is both striking and unexpected, as it is well concealed by a bend in the river.
4. Urban Wilderness: between 6 and 11 o'clock is untamed wilderness. It is fitting that this takes up the largest section of the "tiny planet" as the continuous connection of parks in the river valley give Edmonton the longest urban park system in Canada! The parks range from open grassy areas, treed areas with trails, to cliffs with the park at the top of the cliff. The decision to protect the North Saskatchewan River Valley was incredibly forward thinking, and we are reaping the rewards now. On the river you can be minutes away from the chaos of the city, but feel hours removed. For me, the river is calming; a place where any problems feel small and insignificant, and I can simply live in the moment.
Not pictured in the title photo: the people. Paddling on the river brings an awareness that the river valley is something to be shared collectively with others. Some people fish at the mouth of Whitemud Creek. Others take a break under bridges or splash in the water around any gravel bar they can find. Some even pan for gold. If you’re on the river just after sunrise, you can watch members of the Edmonton Rowing Club start their training by going upstream. The river is a shared resource, and I hope to share it with others from the best viewing platform out there: a stand up paddleboard. It looks even better in person.
Chad writes about Edmonton, SUP, travel and his van. We participate in affiliate programs, and can earn a commission on qualifying products linked in the blog.