Half an hour away from Drumheller (southern Alberta) – in the middle of the prairies – we developed interpretive boardwalk signage for a natural area close to the tiny community of Michichi. Here is the interview with the project manager Dara Kudras at the grand opening.
Michichi Dam Interpretive Boardwalk – Grand Opening
Dara: My name is Dara Kudras and I’m the Assistant Agricultural Fieldman for Starland County [Alberta].
Matthias: What is this trail about?
Dara: I guess this process would have started back in 2017 when I applied for the Alberta Environment and Parks Watershed Resiliency Restoration Grant. I was approved for that grant and the overarching theme of that grant was to bring awareness to the importance of the watershed and the coexistence with beavers as well as a variety of other aspects, educational tools as well. We received that grant and started building the boardwalk and we put up 11 interpretive signs along the way for people to enjoy. We also incorporated the use of the pond leveler for part of the beaver dam to ensure the steady flow of water as that was part of the grant as well to show that we can co-exist with beavers in their natural environment and there are ways to do that.
Matthias: How is the trail going to be used, what is the intent?
Dara: So the intent, as you probably can see it is right beside the campground. This beautiful Michichi Dam campground that we’ve got here so the hope is that of course campers and visitors are going to enjoy using it. I reached out to some of the schools in the area already to see if they like to bring school kids out here to do the boardwalk, have a look around, learn a bit, read the signs. I would like to go out there with them and give some background about the natural area and things like that. Just really hoping that it brings more awareness to the importance of the Red Deer Watershed and all the different types of habitat such as wetlands and things like that.
Matthias: What are some of the challenges you faced while working on this project?
Dara: There were quite a few challenges. The biggest challenge by far was to find a contractor to build in that area. So I had reached out to a couple local contractors and nothing was really panning out so I did end up using a contractor based out of Wainright which is just to far away from the site I think which for some of the logistics hard to work out in that regard. But they did get the job done. The county did have to come in and we did some work on the trail and things like that. The first part of the trail was done, like this part here [pointing to the initial gravel section], by the utilities crew. So that was all dug out by them.
So the biggest challenge was the contractor. There were some issue we had trying to reinforce the bridge over the creek. Like it was basically a suspension bridge when it was put in. We needed to hire a secondary contractor, a welder come in and welded the bridge down and it is not going anywhere now, for sure. So that was one of the bigger issues that we had was that bridge. Other than that, I mean, the signs, that was a cake walk (laughing). Honestly it was! You know, getting the signs done that was… you great to work with on that. Compared to the contractor that was a dream so. I really enjoyed doing the signs, that was the fun part for me.
Matthias: What would you recommend to other counties and municipalities if they want to embark on a project like this? What would be your recommendations?
Dara: So a project like this, I think this project was the first of its kind to get funding through that WRRP Grant [Watershed Resiliency Restoration Grant]. I would say reach out and see if you can try to find what kind of grants you can get first. Because it is an expensive project… and if you can get grant funding for that. I think the WRRP grant would be a good fit because they did have an educational portion to that grant. And that’s kind of how we slit in there. And probably do a tender for your contractor. In hindsight I would have gone back back and done a tender for the contract for the contractors.
Matthias: Would you do it again?
Dara: I think I would yes (laughing) I would. If I could do it all over again. I definitely learned a lot going through this process. At the end of the day I’m happy how everything turned out. And yes I think it is going to be a really good thing for years to come, for people to enjoy.
Matthias: What would you wish for the future in terms how the trail is going to be used? What is your vision for it? As how it benefits visitors, as in what people walk away with?
Dara: I think people walk away with, well the signs are visually very appealing, they are going to stop, they are going to read the signs, they’re going to learn a lot. We’ve got signs about plants, wildlife, and the geology of the area. I think it was very cool that I had worked with a local naturalist, Tim Schowalter, on the content for some of the signs. He was just a wealth of knowledge. So I think we are unique here in that, we didn’t just go and pull it off Wikipedia or something like that. I was able to use area-specific information. I grew up here. I was familiar with some of the different creatures that live here, plants and things like that. I think they come away from it: enjoy the boardwalk, going to learn something for sure and we’ve got that beautiful gazebo down at the end of boardwalk. I hope they come out and have a picnic, make a day of it. I do hope that it brings more tourism into the area as well. Eventually I would like to get a sign on the highway that would highlight the Michichi boardwalk here but for now we are just doing the grand opening. There will be more tourism advertising and opportunities and things like that to come. So I hope I get a lot of foot traffic, like with the horse shoe canyon and things like that. I hope we get more people coming out this way and enjoy our campgrounds and learn more about the Red Deer watershed. That’s kind of my vision for it.
Matthias: Thank you Dara for agreeing to do this interview. And thank you for hiring us to do the signs. We greatly enjoyed working with you!
Dara: Thank you!