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Community project comes to fruition as Riverhurst Wetland holds grand opening

Once little more than a water-logged field, Communities in Bloom project now a refined habitat for millions of birds and insects, complete with an educational component

It was back in 2018  when the Riverhust Communities in Bloom committee decided to do something about the mucky pastureland that sat at the entrance to the community.

The field wasn’t the nicest thing to look at, and with how things had gone over the years, it wasn’t ideal for any wildlife that might like to make a home there, either.

So the community went to work.

And on Saturday afternoon, four years of planning, building, planting and everything else finally came to fruition with the official grand opening of the Riverhurst Wetland.

The area now features a grassy marsh with dozens of different plant species in addition to a pond that quickly attracted all sorts of waterfowl. Newly planted trees line walking paths through the area, with signs along the way pointing out all sorts of informational tidbits about wetlands and what folks might see in the area. There’s even a newly constructed observation deck overlooking the pond, so visitors can get unobstructed views of the critters that call the place home.

It’s a pleasant space to be in, with only bigger and better things to come.

“It’s been a lot of work and we’re really happy with how things turned out,” said Penny Gustafson, one of the Riverhust Wetland project leads. “It feels really good to see it at this point, restoring this back to a healthy ecosystem from when it was pastureland before was what we wanted, and seeing healthy living organisms able to thrive here, that’s really important.”

The project wasn’t just a matter of tossing down some plants and trees and calling it a day, either. Tons of drainage and irrigation were needed to create the full wetland environment, and all that kind of work came with a cost. That’s where the Government of Saskatchewan came in back in April 2021, when funding in support of the project was announced.

Minster of the Environment Dana Skoropad was on hand for the grand opening, and needless to say, he was impressed with what he saw.

“It’s so amazing to see something start as a vision and people talking about it, and then slowly evolve into what we see today,” he said. “I think this is a template other communities can look at and use and tailor to their own situation and that’s great to see.”

One of the most impressive aspects of the project in Skoropad’s eyes was how it turned the area into a thing of beauty, literally what Communities in Bloom is all about.

“When you think about what it was before and the palette that we have here, when these trees grow up, it’s going to be something else,” Skoropad said. “And it’s going to be great for the community. I love when communities come together and grow and that’s exactly what has happened here.”

As the old saying goes, many hands make light work, and the Riverhurst Wetland committee -- which includes Gustafson, Rae-Anne Bromley, Terry Brennan and Keg Summers -- received all sorts of help from their community in bringing things together. Gustafson pointed to the educational signs in the area just one example of folks coming together to make the whole project better.

“It was all put together by Suzanne [Joyce of Ducks Unlimited], Rae-Anne and WayLyn Signs, and they did such a great job,” she said. “That’s really important, too, because it brings an educational component to things. There’s a lot of great information on the signs and it’s even good for young kids.”

Joyce, the communications specialist for Ducks Unlimited Canada Saskatchewan, was on hand for the event and gave guided tours of the wetland after the ceremony.

“I think it’s an amazing thing that they have built here,” Joyce said. “It’s beautiful not just from the perspective of the habitat they created, but the appeal of the area. It’s gone from an area people were a little ‘meh’ about and turned into something beautiful for people who are living or visiting here.”

Joyce pointed to the attention paid to the different zones in the wetland as one of her highlights, seeing as it offers something that will attract all sorts of wildlife. She estimated more than 20 species of birds were already in the area, on top of the countless insects and other critters that will call it home.

“Just looking around, you have a shorebird that just flew by, it likes the mudflats, and the ducks that we saw foraging, they like the deep water,” Joyce said. “So when you do something like this you create something for everyone.

“It’s a great opportunity to expose people to wetlands and their value,” she added. “They can go through and see these interpretive signs and learn a little about some of the stuff that’s living here, and they’ll become more aware of these kinds of places and how important they are.”

For much, much more on the Riverhust Wetland, including its history, development and future, be sure to visit www.riverhurst.ca/the-riverhurst-wetland.