By Tim Kalinowski
With winter descending on southeast Alberta more and more forcefully over the past few weeks, Chris Dodds, Interpretive and Education Coordinator for Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park Alberta, says it is time for people to start embracing the season.
“We are blessed with four seasons and we should enjoy all of them. Winter is not going to go away, as much as we would wish it to sometimes, so we might as well enjoy it. We have to try and make a friend of winter and celebrate it. In the Cypress Hills we have a whole bunch of winter opportunities. If you haven’t been out there in winter, there is always a bunch of really fun stuff to do.”
Opportunities for the general public include cross-country and downhill skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating and this year’s super ice luge located on the hill outside the Learning Centre.
“If you stop by on the weekends at the Learning Centre, we build a back yard luge. We also have plans to build a super luge which is going to be even more fun if you have never tried it,” says Dodds.
For those with a more pioneering spirit the park offers rentable back-country huts (”You get that fire going you can get those huts up to about 25 C and can run around in a T-shirt,” says Dodds.) and will once again, starting Dec. 1, offer a family Christmas tree cutting opportunity, which helps protect the rare Fescue grasslands on the heights from forest encroachment.
“If you want to start or continue a really cool family tradition of hiking out across the prairie and getting yourself a Christmas tree and setting it up, you can. You have to stop by the Visitors Centre and pick up a permit, and we do take donations which go toward getting more kids outside,” explains Dodds.
As for school and community group programs such as winter survivor, tracks and traces and the digital sky lab, Dodds says he is booked solid pretty much through February. For Dodds it’s an encouraging sign that citizens of southeast Alberta are now embracing the winter recreational opportunities at the park in such a big way.
“My whole goal is I exist to get people outside, and get people connected with nature,” says Dodds. “A lot of the work I do is interacting with school students, visitors, the general public, new Canadians, ESL groups, and trying to get them outside and exposed to nature; and appreciating nature in ways they may not have thought of before. When you go outside, and the more time you spend outside, you just feel better. Winter in Cypress is definitely something to celebrate.”