Edmonton Beach – The Accidental River Valley Development, and the Lesson It Provides
Edmonton Beach, the Accidental Beach, Cloverdale Beach or my personal favourite, the Sand District.
This beach is an unintended by-product of the construction of the new Walterdale Bridge. The two temporary dams that allowed the erection of the two bridge towers resulted in the deposits of river sand along the south bank of the river. When the construction dams are removed, it is likely that the river will revert to its original channel, and the beach will erode and disappear – unless we take steps to preserve it.
And we should preserve the beach. This will require conversations with the various federal bodies that protect our waterways, and we will require a plan to allow safe access, parking and litter control that respects the property of nearby residents. Edmonton Beach would be a great addition to our roster of river valley parks like Ward 9's Terwillegar Park and Fort Edmonton Park (both with great footbridges).
But unlike our other parks, Edmonton Beach will allow people to interact with the water. And I believe that is the real lesson.
I believe we need to apply what we have learned. People want to get down to the river, to watch it, walk along it, maybe wade in it, maybe even fish in it. And I think it is time to expand those opportunities.
I would like us to build on the Edmonton Beach experience. Let’s allow limited commercial development between Government House Park and Louise McKinney Park. I am not advocating big malls or side roads. Let’s just enhance what we already have, and allow a coffee shop here and a wine bar there. Maybe an ice cream shop or a bike rental shop. We need only look at the sea wall in Vancouver or The Forks in Winnipeg to see what people-places our river valley could become.
And while we are at it, let’s clear some of the brush away from the banks along the multi-use trails on the north side, and from Saskatchewan Drive on the south side. Imagine what it could be like if you could stand along Saskatchewan Drive on July 1, and watch the fireworks from the high river bank while watching the LED show on our two signature bridges.
Edmonton owes its history, its very existence, to the river. We have done an admirable job of preserving the natural environment of the river. It is now nearly possible to traverse the entire Capital Region, from Fort Saskatchewan to Devon, on multi-use trails. But enjoyment of a riverbank stroll should not be limited to bicyclists and joggers. And making a small urban stretch of our river valley accessible and enjoyable will not compromise the long stretches of untouched riverbank.
Edmonton Beach has shown us what the river could be to Edmonton. It’s time to make use of our largest untapped asset.