The Northeast Swale (Swale) is located in the northeastern area of Saskatoon, adjacent to Aspen Ridge, and has long been regarded as a unique environment, having ecological, hydrological and hydrogeological characteristics. It is a natural and cultural connection to the past and future of Saskatchewan. Featuring some of the last Plains Rough Fescue remaining in the world. The Swale offers high quality biodiversity, proximity to urban areas, economic benefits for education and recreation, and a natural filter for our air and water. Its diverse environment offers a habitat for a large variety of plant species (more than 200), birds (more than 100), mammals, amphibians, reptiles and insects and also provides flood control for the surrounding community.
The City of Saskatoon (City) and the Meewasin Valley Authority (Meewasin) have partnered to conserve the portion of the Swale located in both the City’s boundary and Meewasin’s Conservation Zone. Maintaining biodiversity within the Swale is crucial to maintaining resilience in this ecosystem which faces human induced and natural stresses. Biodiversity provides social, cultural and economic value through biological resources as well as a host of key ecological processes such as nutrient cycling, soil building, and management of water and air purification.
For more information on the Swale, please visit Meewasin’s Northeast Swale Webpage or contact the Meewasin Valley Authority at 306-665-6887.
History of the City and Meewasin’s Swale Conservation Partnership
The Swale was identified in 1992 as being an important natural prairie remnant in the report, “An Inventory of Natural Areas Remaining in the Vicinity of Saskatoon”, prepared for the Saskatoon Natural History Society. Since that time, both Meewasin and the City have expressed interest in protecting the Swale; particularly as the City has future residential development plans in this area. This spurred a new study of the area which provided recommendations and guidelines for development. In 2002, Meewasin and the City approved the “Development Guidelines and the Northeast Swale” (2002). These guidelines informed the 2007 amendment to the University Heights Sector Plan.
Following the approval of the 2002 Guidelines more studies were completed on the ecological character of the region, including a more detailed assessment of the wetland characteristics of the Swale and a better understanding of the important upland environments including the vegetation and bird populations. This resulted in the need to update the Guidelines to reflect this new knowledge and to better prepare the City for the implementation of the University Heights Sector Plan and plans for the North Commuter Parkway. The approval by City Council (Council) of the 2012 Northeast Swale Development Guidelines replaced the 2002 Guidelines. Subsequently the 2012 Guidelines were incorporated into a revised University Heights Sector Plan, approved by Council in 2013.
Development in and adjacent to the Swale adheres to these guidelines, recent examples include:
Construction through the Northeast Swale
Before and during construction of the McOrmond Drive and Central Avenue extensions, many considerations were made in order to help conserve and protect the Swale, as well as the wetlands, wildlife, and grasslands within it.
The following wildlife friendly design features have been built in and will be monitored for years to come:
- Reduced speeds and narrowed roadways through the Swale
- There is a 50 km/h speed limit on the narrowed roadways through the Swale to help prevent wildlife collisions and to reduce impact adjacent habitat..
- Installation of wildlife-friendly fencing
- Fencing has been installed along the west side of Central Avenue to reduce the amount of animal-human interactions.
- This fencing allows for the movement of animals over and under the fence, with the use of smooth wire on the top and bottom and barbed-wire in the middle.
- Development of natural contamination control
- Storm water from the roads flows through vegetated swales with rock check dams and into sedimentation basins before the water is discharged into the Swale.
- Installation of Dark Sky Lighting
- Saskatoon Light and Power installed energy efficient Dark Sky Compliant Lighting to preserve the natural dark light cycles of the inhabitants of the area, while also not releasing any light above 90 degrees.
- “Wildlife Crossing” and “No Stopping” signage is in place for the safety of both drivers and wildlife.
- Use of a Custom grass seed mix
- A custom grass seed mix is being used around the swales to help with weed management, invasive species prevention and erosion control.
- Built-in animal and amphibian crossings under the roads
- Crossings are in place for the safe movement of small animals and amphibians. The entrances of these crossings are to simulate natural areas with the use of rocks and plants, while 40% of the pathway is filled with soil.
Northeast Swale Working Group
Since the approval of the Northeast Swale Development Guidelines, activity in and around the Swale area has increased, resulting in new information and questions arising regarding conservation and how development in and around it should proceed. Residents and stakeholders have brought a number of concerns to City Council. A summary of some of those concerns and a response from City Administration can be viewed here.
As a follow-up to this report, City Council requested that a group be created to continue discussions regarding Swale protection. As a result, the Northeast Swale Working Group (NSWG) was formed. The NSWG is an ad-hoc group with a short-term focus on current issues and policy outcomes. Representatives are to report back to their respective groups to ensure they are up to date on the activities of the NSWG. The group provides opportunities for dialog about the Swale, issues arising from adjacent development, and on-going management. The group is comprised of representatives from the Meewasin Valley Authority, The University of Saskatchewan, City Council, the Northeast Swale Watchers, and City of Saskatoon Administration.
- The NSWG is currently reviewing issues related to the following twelve topics:
- Legal Protection of the Swale
- Speed Limits/Traffic Calming
- Wildlife Corridors/Crossings
- Lowe Road
- Construction Management
- Dark Sky Lighting
- Storm Water Management
- Saskatoon Freeway
- Conservation of Biodiversity
- Meewasin Funding
- Regional Connection
When the topic meetings have taken place and recommendations have been made, representatives from the Administration will report on the outcome of the meetings to the appropriate civic staff and/or Committee of Council.
- The Meewasin Northeast Swale Master Plan (2015) is a strategy to conserve biodiversity, accommodate educational programming, interpret cultural and natural history, and support passive recreation activities. The Master Plan refers to the portion of the Swale within Saskatoon city limits, which is approximately 5 kilometres long covering 290 hectares. The first phase of development of the Swale Master Plan is currently underway. It includes the development of interpretive signs, trails, and seating notes throughout the Swale.
- The Northeast Swale Resource Management Plan (2013) is a description of management techniques appropriate to a natural area, including prescribed burning and grazing to manage invasive species and to protect and enhance biodiversity. The two main goals of the Resource Management Plan align with Meewasin’s mandate of conservation, development, and education:
- To protect and restore biodiversity, unique landscape characteristics, and heritage features inherent in the Northeast swale;
- To provide opportunities for education, recreation, and active commuting in appropriate areas of the swale to the residents and visitors of Saskatoon and area.
- Northeast Swale Development Guidelines (2012) were developed with various stakeholders, including the Meewasin Valley Authority, and are intended to ensure minimal impact to the Swale from adjacent development, roads and infrastructure
How You Can Help
Conserving the Swale cannot be done without our community. When in the Swale, please:
- Take photographs of this beautiful area;
- Enjoy watching for interesting wildlife;
- Bike on developed pathways or walk around the area;
- Consider planting native species on your property and use dark sky lighting if you live in the area; and
- Dump waste or garbage, and remove litter when possible;
- Bring your dogs. (No dogs in the Ecological Core);
- Use motorized vehicles; and
- Pick plants.