Red Deer River Naturalists

The Red Deer river Naturalists are a group dedicated to learning about and preserving natural history. They have regular programs with speakers and many field trips.


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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Butcher Creek Natural Area

RDRN acts as a volunteer steward for three natural areas: Butcher Creek, Innisfail, and Sylvan Lake. Butcher Creek covers about 200 hectares of forest and formerly cleared land. Most of the clear areas are reverting to forest. Butcher Creek is a great area for a family outing, especially for those families with teenagers. It is definitely not an area to take small children. There are rare plants, colourful flowers, and birds. It is a perfect place to practice identification of spoor left by animals. Watch the summer field trips pamphlet for possible trips to this incredible area.

Getting to Butcher Creek: Drive west from Bowden on Secondary Highway 587. Go north on Range Road 35 to Township Road 350 and then west. Continue past the "No exit" sign for 0.4 km. The Butcher Creek Natural Area is on the right and marked with a yellow in a tree stating, "Natural Area Boundary". Don’t try to take vehicles into the parking lot as careless use has created very deep ruts in the roadway. Park at the road and walk in. Fires, for any purpose are forbidden in the natural area.

Caution: While no tracks or spoor have been found in the natural area, visitors should be aware that bears and cougars have been seen about 20 km upstream in the Sundre area. We suggest visiting in noisy groups.

Features: From moist, moss-covered spruce woods to dry, open meadows, the Butcher Creek Natural Area contains a wide range of vegetation communities.

Alder and willow thickets are found in the wet depressions, abandoned channels, islands, and on the shoreline. The most obvious flora of the Natural Area is stands of spruce and aspen poplar. By looking more closely you will see a huge variety of plants ranging from mosses to shrubs, orchids to ferns, and fungi to giant trees. Unwooded areas have a variety of prairie and semi-arid loving plants. This natural area will lead the careful observer to discover many common species of plants.
There is bird life but, because of the thick bush, it takes patience to see them. The river is braided as it traverses the natural area. In some times of the year, the river can easily be waded, in other times, especially June, it can be a swift moving torrent and the wise person stays well away.

Getting around: The Red Deer River is the main stream in the Butcher Creek Natural Area. Beavers have and continue to dam creeks and flood large areas. The only practical way to cross creeks is on the beaver dams. Care is advised as the footing can be unstable and the water can be very deep along the upstream sides. There are no developed trails so hikers are required to bushwhack. You will find rubber boots and a walking stick useful when crossing.

Exploring Butcher Creek: There is a large open space immediately to the north of the parking lot. The fence on the east side marks private land, and must not be crossed. This family-friendly area is great for locating plants and insects and hearing birds. Although some rare species have been found here, most plant are very common. Grasses predominate. There are lots of summer blooms to photograph and admire. Removal of plants, including picking bouquets, is strictly forbidden. We strongly advise against trying to cross the swampy area at the north end of the open area. It is extremely rough and may be wet or flooded. The pasture area is the only part of the Natural Area you should explore with small children or without a GSP.

Other areas (please take your GSP with you into all other areas). Walking west on the road you will cross a culvert. Follow the creek north. When you break free from the very thick wolf willow growth, veer westward until you come to a second creek. Follow this creek northward until you come to the Red Deer River. This route is usually dry and can be walked wearing sneakers, definitely not sandals. Creek bottoms in the natural area are very soft, deep mud.

On the way, you may find lots of ant hills (please do not damage them), large spruce trees, and a huge variety of small plants on the forest floor. Birds, especially chickadees and spotted sandpipers, often make their calls from the trees and streams. The Red Deer River affords a great example of stream braiding.

The influence of the Red Deer River is clearly evident in the Butcher Creek Natural Area. Meandering across the flats, the river produces bars and islands. The majority of the site is located on an old floodplain. As a result, there are numerous abandoned channels, some dammed by beavers that have filled with water and others only shallow, moist depressions. Vigourous plant growth and the large size of mature poplar and spruce trees are testimony to how flood waters have successfully replenished soil nutrients.

Once you get to the Red Deer River, there is a wild expanse of thick forest both up and down stream. We do not recommend entering these areas except in groups and never with small children. There are bogs with wild orchids, cattails, sedges and a variety of water plants. The bogs are deep and can be difficult to cross. On the eastern flanks of the Natural Area, the forest is very thick and deadfall may make walking difficult to impossible with detours or backtracking the norm. GPS is advised to find your way back.

For a description of possible hikes in the Butcher Creek Natural Area, visit our website at Go to Programs, Ongoing programs, Butcher Creek Natural area.

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