As a winter city, Edmonton has plenty of things to do, even in the dark (and so far surprisingly mild) days of January. There’s great food, great theatre, and fun outdoor activities for the whole family, even under the bright downtown lights. But sometimes, you gotta get away from the city to finally see the natural light that shines down on us all the time but doesn’t reach our eyes past the city’s incandescent bubble. And there’s a place that’s just far enough away to see the open night sky in all its intergalactic glory.
Since 2006, Elk Island Park has been part of the Beaver Hills Dark Sky Preserve, a section of land designated by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada as an area in which artificial lighting is restricted or not visible, with active measures to educate and promote the reduction of light pollution for all Canadians to discover and enjoy.
As an interpretation officer/coordinator, Heather Doyle educates many Elk Island visitors, but the best part of her day is at night, staring up at the stars. “I definitely recommend visiting during the day,” she says, “but the nighttime is a totally different experience.”
Before she worked at Elk Island, Doyle says she had very little connection to the stars. “Like most people, I’d look up at the night sky and, you know, the stars are pretty, but I didn’t really know much about them or feel very connected to them. But this program sparks people’s connection with the sky and other aspects of the natural world.”
“This program” is Snowshoe and Stargaze, which includes a short, snowshoe-guided hike around Astotin Lake ending with a campfire, all while guides share star-based stories from different cultures throughout time. It’s a popular program that tends to sell out, but it’s not required to enjoy the exercise and experience the awe Elk Island provides.
“Being a part of a guided experience gives that introductory experience for people, but there are many other activities to do at Elk Island in the wintertime. People can rent snowshoes for the entire day and explore all the trails that Elk Island has to offer, and now that the leaves are down off the trees, some of the animals are a bit easier to see. We have also recently groomed some excellent cross-country ski trails on the golf course. And for the more adventurous people, we offer winter camping as well.”
Snowshoe and Stargaze runs every Saturday until February 18, but you should get out there soon while the weather’s good.