As the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s natural area manager for the Waterton region in Alberta, I need to sometimes simply pinch myself and look around at the spellbinding landscapes that I work on.
I started this role in May 2022. But I have deep ties to the area, having spent the last 10 years of my career with the Municipal District of Pincher Creek in addition to countless trips to Waterton Lakes National Park since childhood.
Simply put, the Waterton region is special. From jagged mountains to golden grasslands, it is a place brimming with natural beauty. Despite being immersed in it every day, I never take it for granted.
Of all the splendours in this area, The Yarrow might be one of the most spectacular.
The Yarrow ignites a response that is so unbridled, exclusive and visceral that doing justice with words is a mammoth task! I have been told that I have won the natural area lottery through the addition of this project to my portfolio, and I completely agree.
It's one of those places that you just “have to be there” to appreciate, and it’s impossible to capture its essence of on film, as visiting The Yarrow is a complete sensory experience and should be enjoyed that way.
But here I will do my best to evoke what it moves in me. Think of this narrative as a guided meditation and allow yourself to submerse completely in this amazing place.
Sticky purple geranium (Photo by NCC)
First and foremost is the undeniable, visual impact. Open your eyes wide and take in the vibrant colours of wildflowers, the dancing sway of delicate fescue in the wind, a messy yet brilliant patchwork quilt of landcover. Compound those visuals with the unmatched depth of open space backed by a magnificent mountain range and never-ending skies.
Now close your eyes. Your surroundings are so void of urban noise that you feel overwhelming solitude. Tune in to the jovial song of a yellow warbler, the shrill bark of a coyote and the grounding buzz of a western bumblebee, and realize you are certainly not alone!
Next, inhale deeply and welcome the grounding fragrance of a sticky purple geranium, or the pungent aroma of trembling aspen buds.
Then if you’re lucky, a plump, purple Saskatoon berry may treat your palette to a sweet and subtly nutty flavour, which blends effortlessly with the fresh breeze descending from Spread Eagle Mountain. This breeze raises the hair on your arms, yet the warming glow of the sun embraces you like a cocoon.
Western bumble bee (Photo by NCC)
The activity around you is relentless and inspiring, you are both energized and subdued. You are in awe of your surroundings and in a state of complete relaxation.
But now here’s the wake-up call: The truth is, there are very few special places like this remaining.
Native grasslands are being converted at an alarming rate.
This intricate habitat required by many incredible wildlife is simply disappearing.
Although sometimes in conflict with ranching, wildlife needs the same space that ranchers use. Ranchers cannot contend with sky-rocketing land prices, inflamed by development and competing land uses.
The Rocky Mountain corridor, home to the iconic wildlife species so many travel to southwestern Alberta to witness, is narrow. These animals rely on space outside our protected parks to survive. This surrounding support zone, maintained by protecting spaces like The Yarrow, is critical.
But The Yarrow is more than just a home for wildlife. This landscape is an expert at delivering essential and intricate ecological functions. While the grasslands wage a silent war against the carbon crisis, wetlands serve to fortify and protect our vital water sources. Our efforts to conserve and steward these lands are more important than ever. Embrace this sense of urgency!
Return your thoughts to this magnificent blend of ecotones, which so perfectly nurture an unrivaled array of species. Ecotones are transitional areas between habitat types, which are often richer in species diversity than either adjoining ecological community. Imagine a future in which this place remains, unbroken and unchanged. Together, we can ensure The Yarrow continues to take away our breath, bring tears of joy to our eyes, and makes us feel so alive we understand why this place is called “a home for life.”