Big Hill Springs Park is perfect for an autumn stroll

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, September 26, 2007

Big Hill Springs Provincial Park celebrates the beginning of autumn with a colourful display of leaves and berries in the signature setting of cascading waterfalls. The stream feeds into Big Hill Creek, which eventually flows through Cochrane Ranche on its way to the Bow River. 
Photos by Mary Anna Harbeck

There is a place nearby that invites all to walk its paths and indulge our autumn fantasies, a place about which Cochrane writer Stephen Gobby waxed poetic:

I won’t be home this morning.
I’ll be at a spot just east of here where
a pretentious little creek spreads and divides itself,
then cascades down a rocky hillside,
creating tiny waterfalls with delusions of grandeur,
with the power to arrest the eye and release the soul.
If anyone calls, I’ve gone to church.

Big Hill Springs Provincial Park is one of nature’s wonders which many newcomers to Cochrane have yet to discover, though among the old-timers it is rich in memories.

Located seven kilometres east of Highway 22 just off Highway 567, where parkland and foothills embrace amidst chirping of sharptailed sparrows and screeching of bald eagles, the intimate day-use refuge features intriguing tufa formations (porous limestone) and a small stream that tumbles its way through picturesque wooded and grassy terrain before flowing into Big Hill Creek on its southwestward journey toward Cochrane Ranche and the Bow River.

A family with young children can easily complete the park’s circle trail in less than an hour, even with many pauses to breathe in the fresh air and take lots of photos. Streamside picnic tables mark trail’s end.

Local historians Jon and Jo Hutchinson live just north of the park on a ranch Jon’s father purchased a century ago. They’ve told me stories of how one of Alberta’s first creameries once operated in the area of Big Hill Springs now reserved for parking, the cold water used both for churning the butter and for keeping it cool prior to being carted off to Calgary. They’ve also explained the presence of the peculiar concrete trough and footings along which the stream passes near the second footbridge, the site of a 1930s trout hatchery.

But beyond its natural and social heritage, this is an especially sacred space, a sanctuary where my wife, Mary Anna, and I come every fall to be captivated by its seasonal sights, sounds and smells, and to experience afresh the release of the soul.

© 2007 Warren Harbeck

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