Saturday, June 16, 2012

Sturgeon River and Big Lake, St Albert

The Sturgeon River flows from Big Lake, eastward through downtown St Albert and (eventually) dumps into the North Saskatchewan.  I've always wanted to paddle this but doubted it was doable in a canoe (maybe a kayak). We were out today cycling along the river and saw two canoes in the water so (proven wrong) I dug out my pictures from last summer.

One of the challenges with the Sturgeon is that it is silty and often has low water levels, especially during the summer. Even today (after a lot of rain) the water was quite low through town. There are also no really good entry points—its going to be a muddy entry no matter how you approach it.

There is a boat launch in downtown St Albert (see above), on the north side of the river. Access is off Mission Avenue and it is just across from St Albert place. Alas, the cement runs out long before you get to water so there will be slogging until you get enough depth to float.

A second (informal) put in is on the south side of the river, about 100 feet downstream from the Ray Gibbins Drive Bridge. Access is from the Kinsmen RV campground (there is parking in the roundabout) and there is a dirt trail down to the water through the grass. I did not wander down today to see how the access was.

It may also be possible to put into Big Lake (above) on the south side, although all of the approaches from here seem hooped because of the low water levels and long mud flats.

Paddling is best between Big Lake and the trestle railway bridge by the ball diamonds and St Albert Senior Citizens Club. This is about 2 km long (at a guess) and there is lots of waterfowl (including young today). There are multiple bands of forest and fields and apparently good fishing. Big Lake is also navigable, although often windy.

Downstream from the trestle bridge, the river passes through St Albert and under St Albert Trail. This was navigable today (there were canoes here) but the paddlers could not get the entirety of their blade into the water, especially passing under St Albert Trail—I’d guess there was about three inches of water beneath their keel and there is a good chance of running aground. The current is not very strong, but pushing off a deep muddy bottom would be a chore.

The river looked passable as far down as Boudreau Road (so a total of maybe 3 km downstream of the trestle rail bridge). Here, there were multiple beaver dams on the river, which would require a muddy dismount to get over. My guess is the mud at the bottom of the Sturgeon is effectively bottomless and quite sticky. My understanding from other paddlers is that, further downstream, you run into a morass of dams and quasi oxbows--a trip best avoided.