Ralph Klein Park self-guided walk
Welcome to Ralph Klein Park!
This is a self-guided walk around the largest constructed stormwater treatment wetland in Canada! The walk on Google Maps is divided into three parts that you can complete on your own time and pace. Trails are flat with some paved sections. Total walking distance is approximately 2.5 km.
The main parking lot is the best place to being as you have the option to select the starting point of your choice. This guide starts at the trail to the east of the main parking lot, but you can begin at any section and make your way along the pathways. You will find a summary of some of the highlights from all the sections below.
Stop 1: Welcome to the park! (Trailhead east of the main parking lot)
Please remember to stay on the trails and be respectful of other park users. It is also important to leave all of the natural materials that you find. Feathers and sticks are important nest building materials.
Ralph Klein Park is named after Calgary’s 32nd Mayor and Alberta's 12th Premier. Ralph Klein was a visionary and tireless advocate on behalf of Calgary and Alberta. As of 2017, the Environmental Education Centre at Ralph Klein Park is a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certified building. The Shepard Wetland at Ralph Klein Park functions as both a stormwater storage facility and a treatment wetland that naturally filters stormwater before it returns to the Bow River. At 156 hectares (385 acres), it is the largest constructed stormwater treatment wetland in Canada.
Continue down the pathway to the benches.
Stop 2: Wildlife in the Park
Many different species of birds, mammals, and invertebrates live in the park. You can sometimes even hear coyotes yipping during dawn and dusk, as they defend their territory, and search for rodents to eat. Two other mammals often spotted in this park are White-Tailed Deer and Mule Deer. Badgers are carnivorous mammals adapted to a digging lifestyle. The large holes found in the grasslands are likely badger dens. During the summer months, you might see American White Pelicans floating on the water or resting on land. With a wingspan of 3 m, they are one of the world's largest birds. Western Meadowlarks are another summer resident that might be hard to see, but not to hear! Be on the lookout for this brown and white songbird with a bright yellow and black chest.
Continue down the pathway and stop about 300 m before you reach the main road.
Stop 3: Where’s the Water?
Water enters the wetland at the northwest corner, where it flows into two large forebays. Here, the water slows down significantly, allowing sediments and other heavy materials to sink to the bottom. Next, the water enters one of five wetland cells which make up most of the wetland. In these cells, plants and microorganisms work to remove pollutants such as excess nutrients from the water. Did you know aquatic plants have special adaptations to help clean the wetland? The aquatic plants take up pollutants and transform them into a non-toxic form! This is called phytoremediation. Berms in each cell create a long, maze-like path for the water to flow. The longer the water remains in a cell, the cleaner it will be. Once the water flows through a cell or two, it enters a discharge bay. This empties into a canal that leads to the Bow River, over 10 km away.
Follow the paved pathway across the road back to the main parking lot.
Stop 4: Orchard
This apple orchard is part of the City's Community Orchard Research Project. This orchard contains nine different plots of apple trees and five varieties of pear trees which are planted along the parking lot. The orchard's purpose is to test a range of fruit trees and shrubs to determine the survival rates and overall quality of the fruits produced. Furthermore, the orchard educates Calgarians on the benefits of local food production and fostering community involvement. For the orchards to continue bearing fruit in the coming years, they require pollinators. Unfortunately, native bee populations have declined across the continent due to parasitic mites, loss of habitat, and climate change. The City has set up mason bee houses at some orchard sites to increase the colonization and pollination of the orchards by mason bees.
Walk across the road towards the main entrance of the building.
Stop 5: LEED Certification
As of 2017, the Environmental Education Centre at Ralph Klein Park is a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certified building. LEED is a third party green assessment and certification program for environmentally friendly buildings. Can you see any sustainable designs that would have helped Ralph Klein Park become Platinum certified?
Notice how the building is oriented northwest to southeast. The overhang on the east facing window acts like the brim of a hat and shades the glass from direct light during the hottest part of the day. Also, there is LED lighting throughout the building and in the main hall. Further, the windows of this building provide light, but also influence heating and cooling. With minimal tint, the windows allow almost 70% of available light to pass through, providing natural light instead of artificial lighting. In comparison, most of the office buildings downtown only allow 20% of available light to pass through.
Walk across the balcony to the staircase on the south end of the building.
Stop 6: Animal Interactions
The man-made wetland and structures interact with nature every day! Did you know that Cliff Swallows nest under the building along the duck walk? These fascinating birds usually make their nests on or near cliffs. Infrastructure such as buildings or bridges are often used by Cliff Swallow colonies, as they are perfect for protecting the nests. Animals such as deer, coyotes, and mice take advantage of the orchard, eating the tasty apples that fall to the ground. Eagles and hawks stand tall on the art piece, searching for prey, while the ground squirrels burrow tunnels underneath the peaked land formations below. We must respect the plants and animals while visiting Ralph Klein Park. It is important to keep our distance from wildlife and ensure that we keep the park clean!
Walk up the stairs (or take the elevator inside the building) to get to the next stop on the roof.
Stop 7: A Green Roof
Unlike cement blocks, the green roof absorb rainwater, which reduces runoff. The plants provide an excellent space for special events and enhance the views of the surrounding wetland. The cost of heating and cooling of the building is reduced, as the green roof helps regulate building temperature. These plants also provide food and shelter for animals! Other green features include the solar thermal panels on the north side of the building which use the sun’s energy for heating. Finally, notice the Glulam beams created by bonding together individual pieces of lumber. The beams here are considered local, as the wood comes from within an 800 km radius of the park. Steel would likely come from Vancouver, Toronto or even China!
Continue to explore the roof and then walk down the stairs to the bottom level of the building.
Stop 8: Duck Walk
When looking on the west side of the building, you will see the photovoltaic solar panels on a vertical pillar. Photovoltaic solar panels convert the Sun’s energy directly into electricity to power things like lights in the parking lot and computers in the offices. The Gabion walls are one of the most striking features of the park and building. It took 18 workers almost 18 months to put all the Gabions together, indoors and outdoors. The Gabions are filled with approximately 498 truckloads of rock! Did you notice the dark coloured line on the outdoor Gabion wall? This line indicates the wetland's maximum capacity holding 6,240,000,000 (Six billion, two hundred and forty million) litres of stormwater!
Follow the pathway north, towards the waterfall.
Stop 9: All About Stormwater
When it rains, water runs off our streets, parking lots, and natural areas. Unfortunately, many pollutants are often collected along the way. These materials then flow into storm drains which drain directly into our rivers. Stormwater is not legally required to be treated, which means it is very important that we do our part to keep our storm water free of contamination. This constructed wetland functions like a natural wetland as it treats stormwater runoff for most of Calgary’s eastern communities before it is released back into the Bow River. Although the wetland is doing its job in cleaning the water, it is still not clean enough to swim in or drink. Therefore, it is very important not to touch or play in the wetland, including the waterfall! In the winter, it is also not permitted to go on the ice. This is because the constant flow of water and contaminants change the ice's structure, making it less stable and prone to breaking when stepped on!
Walk south towards the natural playground.
Stop 10: Natural Playground
The natural playground, sponsored by TD Bank, was designed by grade 3, 4, and 5 students from three different elementary schools in Calgary. Students provided feedback on the equipment and features they wanted to see in the new play area. The playground allows for risk-taking, which is an important part of play! The natural playground design focuses on a watershed theme. It tells the story of how water moves from the mountains down to the wetlands. Each feature demonstrates the connectivity of humans, wildlife, and natural habitats and ties into the key message at Ralph Klein Park that “we all live downstream from someone else.”
Walk across the green field towards the lookout platform.
Stop 11: Marsh Monsters
What lies under the surface of the water is a whole new world! This wetland is home to many types of Marsh Monsters which play an essential role in the ecosystem. Look carefully, can you spot these little invertebrates (animals without a backbone) swimming in the water? Aquatic invertebrates often spotted in the water include giant water bugs, leeches, predaceous diving beetles, and snails. Remember, the water all around you is stormwater and it’s not safe for us to go in.
Follow the pathway towards the art hill.
Stop 12: Art Hill
Beverly Pepper, a world-renowned artist, created the Calgary Sentinels and Hawk Hills in 2013. Pepper stated that “the monoliths at Ralph Klein Park are meant to herald the uniqueness of the wetlands,” and that her “work offers a place for reflection and contemplative thought within the context of active urban environments.” If you listen closely on a windy day, you can hear the third, smaller sentinel singing. The monoliths and pyramids stand as historical markers, designating the wetlands as an important part of Calgary's legacy. This is a great space to stop, take a breath and notice what is happening around you. Think about everything you now know about this wetland and how you can help protect our parks in the future.
Continue to explore the art hill and then if time, visit your favorite stops again. Thank you for learning more about Ralph Klein Park!