Science and History Day – a great success!

Visitors and park staff listening to a Science and History Day speaker in the Falls Theatre
Each summer scientists and historians from the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park gather to share their research findings with visitors and national park staff

July 24, 2018

One of the largest-ever attendances participated in the 15th Waterton-Glacier Science and History Day.

It was the first time for a four-legged speaker – Gracie the bark-ranger from Glacier National Park! There were nine engaging presentations by researchers working in and around the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park World Heritage Site.

The Waterton volunteers did a splendid job of hosting the refreshment breaks. Mark your calendar for next year’s Science and History Day, which will be July 23, 2019 in Glacier National Park, Montana, U.S.

25th anniversary Knapweed Rodeo

Volunteers pulling spotted knapweed on the Prince of Wales Hill
Volunteers tackling spotted knapweed during the 2018 Knapweed Rodeo

July 21, 2018

With a toss of our hats and a yahoo to start the sunny day, 26 volunteers and 6 Parks Canada staff tackled Salamander Hill with enthusiasm and determination to rid that slope of spotted knapweed.

All enjoyed a wonderful picnic lunch and an anniversary cake courtesy of Parks Canada at nearby Linnet Lake. Door prizes, snack breaks, friendly competitions and a great bunch of volunteers kept the day lively with fun.

The coveted “heavy hitter” award passed onto a new winner this year - Kathy who pulled a whopping 21 kilograms of knapweed. All were winners when the 38 large bags of knapweed were stacked up for incineration at the end of the day.

A big thank you to all the volunteers and the generous prize donors: Alpine Stables (a 1.5 hour trail-ride for two), Waterton Lakes Opera House (two admissions for two to a movie of the winners’ choice), Big Scoop (ice-cream for the lucky winners), and Bayshore Inn Resort and Spa ($100 Lakeside Chophouse gift certificate).

Johansen family reunion – clean sweep on Bertha Trail and corrals knapweed

Volunteers picking up wildfire exposed litter along the Lakeshore Trail
Volunteers picking up wildfire-exposed, old litter along the Lakeshore trail

July 18, 2018

What an inspiration for other gatherings in the park! For their fourth consecutive family reunion (for decades, held every three years in Waterton), the Johansen family again tackled controlling spotted knapweed, this time on the Prince of Wales Hill.

Sporting the red volunteer pinnies, 77 people made quite a dint in the spread of knapweed; collecting 19 bags over the two hours on July 18. Then in the afternoon, a couple more volunteered to work with Parks Canada staff (archeologist, cultural resource officer and volunteer program staff) to do a Clean Sweep for Wildlife along the Bertha Lake trail to the junction with the Lakeshore trail.

We found items of cultural value along the way, such as telephone line insulators, confirming there was a telephone line from the townsite to the old Bertha Bay wardens’ cabin. The insulators were left in place for the historical record. We collected almost 10 kgs of litter over the 1.7 kilometers of trail and from around the Upper Waterton Lake overlook.

Butterfly BioBlitz finds a long-distance migrant

Volunteers with nets looking for butterflies
The 2018 Butterfly BioBlitz took place in some of the areas burned by the Kenow Wildfire

July 16, 2018

From more than one perspective, it was a very interesting Butterfly BioBlitz this year.

The bioblitz took place in some of the areas burned over by the Kenow Wildfire last September, such as the Red Rock Parkway and around the Bison Paddock area. Despite all the above ground vegetation and organic soil, along with the butterfly cocoons there being burned by the wildfire, many butterflies were observed living in the regrowth, with its profusion of wildflowers.

Some variegated fritillaries were recorded, which are long-distance migrants from the southern U.S. and do not breed in Waterton. (They had been recorded twice before in 2015 and 2017.) Other interesting observations were the two-tailed swallowtail recorded at the bison paddock (rarely seen in the park), and a number of blue species, including Shasta blue (only recorded once before in the park in 2009), Melissa blue and northern blue. In all, volunteers netted and the experts identified (and then released unharmed), 178 individual butterflies from 33 species. Thirty three species is the average observed over the 19 years of the count.

Thank you to all the experts without whom the bioblitz would not be possible: Kim Pearson, Mira Vanhala, Jen Carpenter and from the Alberta Lepidopterist Guild, Dave Lawrie.

Spring Bird Count - surprisingly good results and highlights

Volunteers using binoculars to count and record birds
There were 109 species recorded on count day during the Spring Bird Count

June 2, 2018

Given that a sizable area of the park normally accessible by road and trails remained closed due to last September’s wildlife, the 13 volunteers were pleasantly surprised and so too were the coordinators once all the results were tallied for this 34th year of the count.

There were 109 species (average is 107) recorded on count day, June 2, plus an additional nine species during count week, May 31 to June 5. Weather and number of volunteers have an effect on count results, but this year, the weather was reasonably good and there was a good volunteer turn-out.

There were some interesting highlights. Some species were recorded during count week after a considerable absence. Common nighthawk was last seen eight years ago, and a red-necked grebe was last recorded nine years ago. There were also some species seen that are quite uncommon, such as western grebe, Philadelphia vireo and a common grackle, all of which have been seen only four times previously on count days.

A black-throated green warbler and mourning warbler have each been seen on count days just once previously. Two species set new record highs for numbers: 15 western tanagers easily eclipsed the previous high of ten in 2015 and 13 eastern kingbirds narrowly edged out the 12 seen in both 2011 and 2012.

A special thank you to the Lethbridge Naturalists Society and Teresa Dolman in particular, who has been the tireless official count coordinator for many years, including checking and compiling the results and highlights. Thank you to all the participants, who collectively spent about 11 hours in total driving 98 kilometres and 19 hours hiking 16 kilometers spotting, listening, and counting the birds.

Adopt-a-Patch - now busy pulling for 2018

Volunteers working on Knight’s Hill
Volunteers working in adopted patches located on Knight’s Hill

May 27, 2018

For 2018, volunteers are focusing on patches located on Prince of Wales hill and Knight’s hill where chemical control of the invasive spotted knapweed is not possible due to the slope and/or nearby water.

At the May 27 Adopt-a-Patch orientation, a team of seven new and returning volunteers cleared a sizable portion of the two patches on scenic Knight’s hill, located near the Kootenai Brown interpretive pull-off.

There are 11 patches in all, with two still available for adoption and six others closed to public access into mid-summer due to bear activity, including a mother and three cubs. If you are interested in likewise adopting a patch, please email

International Peace Park Native Plant Garden - butterflies, blooms and hummingbirds

Volunteers weeding
Volunteers weeding in the International Peace Park Native Plant Garden

May 27, 2018

This year’s start was a perfect afternoon for gardening in the park’s native plant demonstration garden, which is located in Waterton townsite between the marina and administration building.

The park’s new lead volunteer gardener, Gina, skillfully hosted an orientation for those interested in volunteering. Gina was already well on the way through the spring clean-up of the garden. Six volunteers tackled weeding out all the dandelions, which were already in full bloom on May 27.

We were all delighted with not only the garden’s wildflowers in bloom, but also the morning cloak butterflies and the male Rufus hummingbird zipping around to feed on wild columbines. Volunteers will continue to work with Gina as their schedules permit throughout the growing season. When in the townsite, do take a side trip to have a look at the garden and enjoy the flowered and winged delights there.

Spring flower count - a record number of volunteers!

A volunteer hand pointing out a plant blooming
A record number of volunteers came out for the Spring Flower Count

May 27, 2018

Like bumble bees, a record number of volunteers took to the wildflowers for the spring count, including the 2018 Prairie Walk group of 11 from Calgary. We were all curious to see what species were flowering, particularly given the snow laden, late spring and the sites affected by the Kenow wildfire last September. Thirty-three volunteers enjoyed identifying and recording the species that were in full bloom.

Big swatches of brilliant blue-coloured low larkspur (Delphinium bicolor), sprays of woolly gromwell (Lithospermum ruderale) and some flexile / silky lupine (Lupinus sericeus) blooms hinting at a profusion to come were part of the feast for the senses out on the Blakiston Fan and the hill by the stables. Two of the highlights were a striped coralroot (Corallorrhiza striata) from the orchid family blooming in a patch of burned wolf willow and the showy, delicate flowers of the small-flowered fringecup (Lithophragma glabrum), only known from less than half a dozen sites in the park. It was a great opportunity for all to learn more plant names from each other and to compare anecdotes from prior years. It peaked our curiosity for what will be blooming next.

Volunteer Kick-Off - wildfire effects on volunteer program

Volunteers get together for season kick-off luncheon
The 2018 volunteer season included a May get-together and informative luncheon

May 27, 2018

For Waterton’s more than 700 volunteers, this year’s volunteer season officially kicked off with an informal lunch and get-together at Camp Columbus located adjacent the Middle Waterton Lake.

New volunteers, long-time volunteers and those from near and further away (Calgary being the furthest) had a grand time meeting each other and visiting. Lunch included a short audio-visual presentation giving an overview of the substantial progress made by volunteers in 2017 and of this year’s projects.

While some annual projects will be amended due to the closed areas of the park, the Kenow Wildfire has not resulted in any cancellations. Rather, last September’s wildfire increased the need for volunteers this year and the number of inquiries from people wanting to volunteer.

Examples of projects stemming from the wildfire are the Clean Sweep for Wildlife and the work on the salamander byway system. Many additional volunteers will also be needed to assist the Parks Canada restoration crew with controlling non-native, invasive plants; particularly given the multiple sites of unvegetated ground that now provides new seed beds for weeds.

Clean sweep for wildlife - post-wildfire landscape gets a cleanup

One of the volunteer teams showing off old glass and tin litter they collected
The post-wildfire landscape got a cleanup during the Clean Sweep for Wildlife event in May

May 7, 2018

Six hundred and eighty kilograms (1500 lbs). That is how much accumulated glass and metal debris 18 volunteers and three Parks Canada staff picked up from along the Red Rock Parkway, and removed from being a hazard to wildlife and visitors. It was incredible to encounter the sheer amount of decades of accumulated glass bottles and metal exposed by last September’s wildfire.

We also found cultural resources and artifacts, such as bison bones, a toy wagon and 1920s beverage bottles from regional breweries no longer in existence. We had the support of Parks Canada archeologists throughout the day. At the outset, they provided guidelines so we didn’t accidentally disturb items of potential cultural value. They also visited and noted our various finds throughout the day.

If during your park visits this year, you like us discover “litter” that looks like something your grandparent’s generation may have had or possibly older, do take a photo, don’t disturb and do let Parks Canada staff know of the location, description and photo.

Great Canadian Spring Shoreline Cleanup - hints of a blustery winter in the litter

Volunteers collecting litter from Emerald Bay shoreline
Sixteen volunteers cleaned Upper Waterton Lake’s Emerald Bay shores as part of the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup

May 5, 2018

With the Upper Waterton Lake levels the highest we’ve had on a cleanup and snow banks still glistening in the sun at Bosporus Straights, 16 volunteers (including eight divers organized by Awesome Adventures), made a clean sweep of Emerald Bay shores. Volunteers came from as far away as Edmonton and Medicine Hat. Why? One said it was her favorite park and she wanted to give back to the place she loves.

Our largest item found, way too large to weigh and bag, was a section of marina dock marooned on the far shore across the bay from the marina. That, together with assorted construction materials and signs originating from Parks Canada, townsite businesses and construction contractors all indicated it was indeed one very windy and stormy fall and winter along the Waterton Lakes.

The volunteers collected, recorded and bagged 75.5 kilograms (167 lbs) of litter, with construction materials (1,313 pieces) being by far the most common. The next most common was food wrappers (227 pieces). Overall, this was still less total weight collected than in the three prior springs; possibly an indication that people are leaving less litter along Waterton shorelines.

Salamander byway restoration - post wildfire

A yellow caution salamander crossing road sign
The low fencing destroyed by the Kenow Wildfire is an important part of the Entrance Road mitigation to enable safer crossing by long-toed salamanders

April 30, 2018

In the nick of time between the late spring snow melt and the spring rains, 30 volunteers restored the function of a very important mitigation measure for long-toed salamanders; a species listed as Special Concern in Alberta.

The Kenow Wildfire destroyed low fences that had safely guided the salamanders and other amphibians to tunnels under the Entrance Road to the Waterton townsite. Volunteers installed temporary fencing so that amphibians still had a safe way to move back and forth between their habitat at Linnet Lake and on the slopes of Salamander Hill, located across the Entrance Road. Putting up more than 250 metres of temporary amphibian proof fencing was no easy feat, and we thank our volunteers for accomplishing this work in one day!