A childhood relived

Witness a marriage between native grasslands, woodlands, river and flood plains

W hen you ask Carissa Sideroff about the biggest misconception about her beloved province of Saskatchewan, she’ll roll her eyes and tell you it’s that everyone thinks it’s flat.

“Sure, if you’re driving along Highway 1 through Saskatchewan and don’t travel anywhere else,” she says. “For the most part, Fairy Hill South is not flat – except for maybe the flood plain.”

The predominately un-flat part of Saskatchewan she is referring to is located within the Upper Qu’Appelle River Valley, just 20 minutes from Regina. This river valley was once a major glacial spillway that drained glacial Lake Regina, boasting a geological history that makes Fairy Hill South a must-see in Saskatchewan.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada’s (NCC’s) Fairy Hill South Complex is 657 hectares (1,624 acres) of diverse native grasslands, woodlands, wetlands and floodplain straddling the Qu’Appelle River, says Carissa. “Once you’re just a few steps inside, on the trail, you’re caught up in the sounds of nature – birds chirping and the wind rustling the leaves.”

A different kind of water park

The native habitat at Fairy Hill South Complex serves as a home for aquatic and terrestrial species and as a haven for visitors to explore. The area is also habitat for species at risk, such as northern leopard frog, yellow rail and barn swallow.

“The first time I saw the property, I was in awe,” says Carissa. “A year later, I got a job with NCC and, during my first summer with the organization, I was able to explore a little part of it. Now, as a stewardship coordinator, I’m in charge of the land management that takes place on the property. I went from an admiring bypasser, to making decisions on how to best manage this area.”

At home in nature

Carissa’s admiration for nature comes from a lifelong love affair with the outdoors. Growing up on a farm in a small northern Alberta town, nature became a fortress for Carissa and her siblings to explore. With plastic bread bags around their socked feet and lining their rubber boots, the Sideroff children spent their summer vacations on the farm, collecting colourful flowers and rocks to adorn their grandparents’ farmhouse porch.

“I grew up surrounded by nature, and now it’s part of my work life,” she says. “I look forward to field season because I grew up having a strong connection to the outdoors and never really lost it when I moved to the city. Sometimes you just need to get outside and see the benefits for yourself.”

At the Fairy Hill South Complex, Carissa feels right at home hiking along the ever-changing terrain, which runs the gamut from flat to hills, from grasslands to tree-covered wetlands.

Northern leopard frog

The northern leopard frog ranges from southeastern BC to Labrador, and from south-central Northwest Territories through the central and southwestern United States.

This amphibian can be found in one of three distinct habitats, depending on the season. During winter, it hibernates in well-oxygenated rivers, creeks, ponds and lakes that do not freeze to the bottom. During the breeding season, it occupies marshes, ponds and lakeshores, typically those with plenty of vegetation. It occasionally breeds in slow-moving creeks and streams. In summer, it often moves into grasslands and forests.

Species to Spot

– American white pelican
– black bear
– blue-winged teal
– cedar waxwing
– coyote
– downy woodpecker
– elk
– great blue heron
– green ash
– mallard
– moose
– mourning dove
– northern harrier
– northern leopard frog
– northern pocket gopher
– northern snowberry
– red-tailed hawk
– ruddy
– sharp-tailed grouse
– snog sparrow
– spear-grass
– Tennessee warbler
– western meadowlark
– yellow warbler

Disconnecting to reconnect with nature

Carissa believes that as technology constantly encroaches on people’s lives, a connection to nature is vital for our well-being.

“We’re having new advances in technology. We don’t even have to leave our house to get groceries anymore,” she says. “When I’m in nature, I feel like I’ve regained mindfulness, I’ve improved my focus and my mental energy.”

Carissa finds solitude within Fairy Hill South Complex, across the varying topography the property boasts.

“Nature has always been my release – the place where I can clear my mind and slow things down. I grew up running around in nature with my siblings and I hope that someday when I have kids, they can enjoy nature as much as I did and do now.”

Photo Credits (Top to bottom): Carmen Leibel; NCC; NCC; Lorne; Gail Chin.

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