St. Patrick's Island: Calgary's Newest Island Playground Comes Alive

    · 6 min read

    St. Patrick’s Island is tired, worn out and not attractive to many; but starting this spring the Bow River island will get a big facelift to the delight of park enthusiasts and nature buffs throughout the city. Calgary’s newest urban park and island playground will feature remarkable views of downtown Calgary, family-friendly play zones for all seasons and quiet respite areas for those seeking a direct connection to nature in the midst of a large city.

    In 2010, Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC) got the nod, from the City of Calgary and its Board of Directors, to undertake a master plan program for St. Patrick’s Island – a 31 acre island park near the Calgary Zoo - which would include a new pedestrian connection from the island to the north banks of the Bow River and the selection of New York-based W Architecture and Denver-based CIVITAS as the landscape development team to deliver Calgarian’s vision for St. Patrick’s Island.

    “We are ready to breathe new life into this space”, noted Michael Brown, president and CEO, Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC). “The landscape program we are delivering balances the wishes of Calgarians with the natural context of the site and offers multi-zoned recreational experiences from the very tip to the very bottom of the island. The design addresses social and security issues, to make the park an all-season destination”, he added.

    The W/Civitas approved design plan highlights recreational zones or core development nodes as a means of delivering a variety of passive and active experiences across the island. “Calgarians are clear in their desires for St. Patrick’s Island, they want the island to remain as a park oasis - a beautiful, natural and wild space”, said Barbara Wilks, founder of W Architecture. “At one point, the island was actually three islands; there was a breach where the water would come across every year and there were wetlands. So, our objective was to reveal and restore the natural processes that made the island and offer a set of experiences which vary, literally, every day of the year”.

    The landscape plan for St. Patrick’s Island is based on a biophilic concept of a place‐based restoration of the natural operations of the island. The plan requires that people be able to see and to understand the significance of the land, its systems, its natural terrains, and how it lives.

    A variety of features and encounters have been planned into the park to expose people to nature at work; thereby allowing visitors to touch the water and play on the landforms.

    Some of the planned recreational experiences of St. Patrick’s Island include:

    • The TIP - At the top of the island and equipped with seating bars and an informal plaza, the Tip, is a respite and rest area designed to withstand annual flooding.
    • The SEASONAL BREACH - The re-installation of a historic channel (breach) will allow Calgarians to explore the natural gravel bars of the Bow River in the summer or go for a skate in the winter.
      The RISE - The multipurpose grassy island knoll stands nine (9) metres high and is sloped on one side to offer some amazing vantage points of downtown Calgary. The Rise provides a perfect outdoor amphitheatre setting for community celebrations and in the winter will become a prime tobogganing site!
    • The LOOKOUT - Situated at the eastern edge of the park (near the Calgary Zoo), the Lookout includes seating and picnic areas, a small amphitheatre, water features, and overviews of the lowland channel and boardwalks.
    • The COVE - Along the southern edge of the island, the Cove is designed to encourage fishing, kayaking or wading. It provides quick access to the Lookout and the lowland channel riparian areas of the island.
    • The LOWLAND CHANNEL - a second historic channel will be restored and deepened to create a seasonal, true riparian wetland within the core of the island which will greatly enhance the diversity of species that can take inhabit the island.
    • User Amenities – The redevelopment of St. Patrick’s Island will also include specially designed play areas for children; 1.6 kilometres of paved and soft pathways for running, riding and strolling; elevated walkways to showcase and educate on the island’s natural habitat; public washrooms and utility sheds and increased parking capacity near the Calgary Zoo to facilitate family picnics and gatherings.

    The redevelopment of St. Patrick’s Island is being coordinated with the construction of the new St. Patrick’s Island Bridge which is currently underway and on track to be completed by the end of the year.

    The landscaping plan for the island begins this spring with the removal of invasive plant species, and early preparation work on the Seasonal Breach and Lowland channel. The island will be closed for public access starting March 18, 2013 and will remain closed for 18-24 months; after which a large public celebration will be coordinated to commemorate its new design and function.

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