A view of the Swan Hills lowlands. Dean LaBerge, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Nestled within the loftiest expanse of the Swan Hills uplands, the Goose Mountain Ecological Reserve (GMER) is a hidden gem of the local area. Encompassing a substantial 1,246.48 hectares, this ecological reserve stands as a sanctuary, shielded from the intrusion of motor vehicles, specimen collection, and expeditions that might disrupt the delicate local vegetation. 

Rising an impressive 600 meters above the encircling lowlands, the area is characterized by broad plateaus that quickly transition to steeply sloping hills. The prevailing vegetative tapestry is that of a coniferous woodland made up of balsam and subalpine fir hybrids, Engelmann and white spruce hybrids, and lodgepole pine with tall clusters of alder and willow flourishing on dampened slopes.

Designated an ecologi­cal reserve means that the area is protected. No overnight camping or open fires are allowed, and the use of motorized vehicles is not permitted. 

Ecological reserves contain rare and fragile landscapes, plants, animals and geological features. Their primary intent is the strict preservation of natural ecosystems, habitats, features and associated biodiver­sity. These reserves serve as outdoor laboratories and classrooms for scien­tific studies related to the natural environment, and as such, ecological re­serves are only open to the public for low-impact activities such as photog­raphy and wildlife view­ing

Roughly 43.5 km northwest of the Town of Swan Hills, the GMER is accessible by Goose Tower Road. According to the Town of Swan Hills website, “The Goose Tower Road is a privately owned oilfield road that is subject to weather. The main soil base is clay shale with moisture that quickly turns into greasy mud.” The write-up then aptly suggests that people planning to visit the GMER use a four-wheel-vehicle, monitor the weather, and notify another party of their plans in case they run into difficulty. The passage ends with the warning, “The weather changes quickly and drastically in this area and the roads quickly become impassable.”

Please take these warnings about the road seriously. My wife, Tara, and I drove to the GMER this past weekend, and Goose Tower Road is not for the faint of heart as it approaches the Reserve. In the final 10 km or so, there was a spot where the southern half of the road had partially washed out; someone had lodged about three large branches upright into a hole in the road to mark it for other motorists. There were roughly four areas between this spot and the Reserve where the road became extremely muddy; our truck nearly didn’t make it through the second muddy area, and then we did become stuck in the third. Luckily, we were able to work our way out. We made a point to get out of the vehicle and survey each muddy area on foot before proceeding on the return trip and were able to avoid further issues.

The trip to the GMER made for an incredible drive and a fun adventure. We saw some beautiful flowers along the way and witnessed stunning views of the surrounding landscape through breaks in the treeline along the road. While we came across indications that bears had recently been in the area, including tracks and some very fresh scat, we did not actually see any bears on this outing.

If you would like to visit the GMER, please heed the warnings about Goose Tower Road. Pick a time when the weather has been dry for at least a few days, ensure that you take a sturdy four-wheel-drive vehicle, notify someone of your plans and when they should expect you to return, and take your time to proceed cautiously. Prepare for a hike through the bush in bear country and take precautions to keep yourself safe (make noise as you go, carry bear spray, avoid heading out between dusk and dawn, etc.). And bring a cell phone; we found that we generally had at least one bar of reception throughout the trip. Sturdy footwear and clothing are also recommended; a tank top and flip-flops won’t quite cut it for this type of outing.

Remember, nature is for all to enjoy, leave the site as you found it; don’t pick or dig up the plants, shrubs or trees, and please don’t litter.

Be sure to have fun and stay safe!

By Dean LaBerge, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Aug 09, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from   Grizzly Gazette   Swan Hills, Alberta

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