Urban Compass Calgary
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Go stick your toe in the Bow
Our under-utilized river can be safely enjoyed without a paddle
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Calgarians may be a landlocked people, but that doesn’t mean we can’t spontaneously step into the river every now and then.
I’m not talking about going in for watersports like boating and fishing. I’m referring to more casual encounters with the Bow River, our main watercourse.
In many places, the city hasn’t been built to facilitate this. Major roadways, such as Bow Trail and Memorial Drive, cut us off from parts of the river. Even where there are riverside pathways, a little bushwhacking is often needed to get to the water.
But it’s worth it. If you’re willing to clamber down a few rocks, you can kick off your shoes and easily wade into the water up to your ankles or knees. Doing so lets you see the city from a new perspective.
It also gives a sense of orientation: we are, at our core, a city built at the confluence of two rivers.
(Don’t wade in the Elbow River for now, though, as it’s under a contaminated water advisory between Sandy Beach and 9 Ave S.E. due to fecal coliform. Yuck.)
Depending where you are, stepping into the Bow feels odd, almost intrusive. One wonders: Am I even allowed to be here — to just go in, without some kind of sports apparatus?
Calgarians seem to prefer going in with gear. On summer weekends, the river is full of rafters, joined by a smattering of of canoe paddlers, fishers, kayakers, paddleboarders and river surfers (at the wave by 10 Street NW).
All of that is great, but there is a place in the water for the non-geared human, too.
Maybe it’s because Calgarians tend to be outdoorsy types who like activities such as hiking, skiing and snowboarding, but I think we perhaps jump too quickly to watersports, to the neglect of simpler encounters.
Not that they don’t happen. You can find such interactions at spots like Edworthy Park.
There, it’s common to see people playing in the water. There are rafters, but you also see people wading with their shorts rolled up, soaking their hair, having fun.
What I love about places like that is often you start with a separate activity such as a picnic or a walk, and end up in the water. It’s unplanned and spontaneous. The river has a way of pulling you in.
With riverside access limited throughout the city, the places where this happens are few and far between. That’s slowly changing, as the city seeks to better integrate the river — one of Calgary’s best natural features — into our everyday lives.
The newly-redeveloped St. Patrick’s Island, for example, includes a wading area with a pebbly beach. On warm summer days, it draws a lot of people.
With fall coming, the time for such encounters is limited. Go stick your toes in the Bow, before it’s too late.