Making Hay on a Slow Snow Day

Part II
Page 2 of 5   |  
johnson lake, banff, alberta
Johnson Lake (Photo © Alistair Wearmouth)

As Pam Challoner of the Banff-Lake Louise Tourism Bureau notes, "We want to get people out of their hotels and into the park." Remarkably, of the park's four million yearly visitors, less than five percent actually get much farther than a few hundred yards from their cars—a tragedy for park tourism, perhaps, but a blessing for nature lovers who make it a practice to leave the vehicle far behind their footprints. The plethora of scenic outlooks and overlooks and uplooks dish up breathtaking Rocky Mountain vistas, while frequent sightings of deer, elk, bighorn sheep, coyotes, and even grizzlies burn up rolls of film and megabytes of digital memory. But even a short hike into the woods will unveil so much more than picture-postcard-perfect views of Mount Rundle and dopey, tourist-weary elk.

Take the hole-riddled lodgepole. Peter Duck explains that the offending woodpecker had drilled those six or seven holes into the dead trunk in search of carpenter ants, quietly shifting their swath of forest in the safe confines of the bark. The carpenter ants, in turn, serve as valuable nourishment to grizzly bears, soon to be appearing in spring, bleary-eyed, ravenous, and anxious for quick sources of protein. Pity the poor ants, then. "And that's why we don't simply cut down trees after a prescribed burn," notes Duck. One rotting tree becomes a fount of life for the denizens of the forest, even in death.

This was just one of the many fascinating glimpses into the invisible ecosystem that beavers away mostly hidden to the millions, nay billions when you count the ex-post-facto slideshows, of shutter snaps and gawping eyes.

We struck out for our two-hour interpretative loop around Johnson Lake at noon, some of us probably still a little aggrieved that Sunshine hadn't laid on snowmobiles and opened the slopes privately for us professional types. Johnson is a man-made body of water, created to supply water for local coal-mining operations (which in turn served the burgeoning Canadian Pacific Railway) in the early 1900s, a history that highlights that Banff was not always a beacon of environmental protection. Mining and logging interests scoured the landscape for new resources; another effect of the new railroad was that it brought tourism and trade through the scenic Bow Valley corridor, set in the lee of the Rockies' massive green-gray flanks. The majestic landscape that had been sheltered for so long by nature's rocky fortress would never be quite the same.

Today, the pressure on the ecosystem continues to mount, despite the fact Banff was declared a national park as early as 1885 and inscribed as a World Heritage Site in November 1984 (jointly with Jasper, Kootenay, and Yoho national parks, plus a number of provincial parks) "in recognition of the area's outstanding natural beauty, floral, and faunal diversity."

Published: 9 Aug 2004 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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