Elk Island (Alberta) on the map. National Park Elk Island ( Alberta ) on the map of Canada

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Elk Island  (Alberta) on the map. National Park Elk Island   ( Alberta ) on the map of Canada.

Elk Island, Alberta

Established: 1913   Acreage: 48,000

The park is located in the Beaver Hills, a landscape of water-filled hollows and rolling hills rising above the surrounding plains. The hills are large mounds of rock, dirt and gravel left behind by the retreating glaciers 10,000 years ago; aspen forests and spruce bogs now characterize this elevated 'island' in the prairie. Surrounding Elk Island lies the landscape of man—grainfields, pastures and towns. But within the fenced boundaries, a trace of what was once natural to the Beaver Hills still survives—forests and meadowlands, quiet lakes and beaver ponds. The park has over 250 lakes and ponds, the largest of which are Astotin and Tawawik.

For centuries, the Sarcee Indians lived in the area, making little change in the harmony of life that existed in the hills. Eventually the Sarcee were forced onto the surrounding plains by the Cree, who supplied white fur traders with the pelts of beaver—already trapped to near extinction in the east. When the Cree moved in the late 1800s, the land seemed empty. Fires had scarred the land—no longer were there large tracts of spruce, tamarack and poplar to shelter the few remaining herds of elk—another animal that was close to extinction.

The concern of local residents was aroused. The first step toward conservation in the Beaver Hills was the creation of a

Right: White-tailed deer move freely in and out of Elk Island, jumping or squeezing under the seven-foot boundary fence.

Below: Park visitors stroll along the 'Living Waters Boardwalk' floating interpretive trail.

 

federal timber reserve in 1899. Soon after, local conservationists called for an elk sanctuary to preserve an overhunted herd. Today Elk Island is also a haven for the once nearly extinct bison. For 400,000 years, millions of plains bison roamed the grasslands of North America, but within the span of a hundred years this huge animal was brought to the brink of extinction when European settlers hunted them for food and hides.

In 1907, the Canadian government, seeking to rescue the bison from extinction, purchased the largest remaining herd and shipped them to Elk Island until a fence could be completed at Buffalo National Park. When the herd was moved to its final destination, about 50 bison evaded the round up and remained at Elk Island. From this small group grew today's herd. The park is also home to a herd of wood bison, which is kept isolated from the plains bison to ensure that the two subspecies remain pure.

In addition to restoring the bison, Elk Island is involved in the conservation of all wildlife, including moose, deer, beaver and coyote. Other mammals found in the park include shrews, chipmunks and mink. The lakes and marshes of the park are home to many of the 230 species of birds seen at Elk Island, including ducks, gulls, terns, grebes and loons. Land birds can be spotted in the branches of poplar, spruce and birch trees. Within the park's boundaries, rare species of marsh marigold and several types of lilies are found. Though small in size, Elk Island National Park has played a large role in conserving Canada's animal and plant life.

Elk Island  (Alberta) on the map. National Park Elk Island   ( Alberta ) on the map of Canada.