by Ian Kucerak
Saint City News, December 24, 2010
One of St. Albert’s staunchest environmental advocates is being recognized with the naming of a portion of land near Big Lake.
A peninsula jutting into Riel Stormwater Pond will now be known as “Elke’s Peninsula,” in honour of Elke Blodgett.
The promontory, which juts out into a lagoon near a disputed power line south of the lake, is a prime nesting area for waterfowl, creatures that Blodgett has worked hard to protect for decades.
She sits there in the evening, watching the sun set over the water and listening to bird songs from hundreds of waterfowl. It brings her back to her time as a child, picking berries in the forests of Germany in the 1940s. She’s been fighting for the natural world in and around the lake since she emigrated to Canada in 1966.
“I just have been trying to preserve this for my children and grandchildren and yours maybe,” Blodgett said. “It’s the only place in the entire metropolitan area that, within five minutes, you can go out there and get corned by three moose on the platform, which has happened to me. … It’s just been my refuge and my place to find peace and quiet.”
Blodgett is happy to have her name linked with that land, as it’s a way of her giving her stamp of approval to the positive changes made in the area. While there is still much to do, Blodgett thanked scientist Dave Schindler and her supporters at the Environmental Law Centre for their efforts over the years in assisting her fight against development and pollution around the lake.
Blodgett has fought to protect the Sturgeon River, opposed the construction of Ray Gibbon Drive and worked to bring the damage incurred by environmental spills into the public sphere.
Mayor Nolan Crouse said that Blodgett is deserving of the recognition due to her commitment to the park and to the environment.
“It is fitting for Elke to be recognized and I can think of no better way of doing so than to name this area within the constructed wetlands after her,” said Crouse via a press release.
Miles Constable, president of the Big Lake Environmental Support Society (BLESS), said his organization welcomes the move to recognize someone whose beliefs have mirrored those of many members for more than 15 years. Blodgett is an honourary member of the organization.
“She’s a great person to work with; she’s very dedicated to the environment,” Constable said.
Despite her previous conflicts with the City of St. Albert over the west regional road and the cleanup of the landfill under Riel Park, Constable said he’s seen a rapprochement between the City and Blodgett since Crouse became mayor in 2007 and as the Ray Gibbon Drive conflict dissipated with the construction of the road.
“Quite honestly, under the direction of Nolan Crouse, the City is not really concerned about the history of Elke Blodgett or BLESS or other groups,” Constable said. “They’re much more willing to just co-operate and get on with things.”
For Blodgett, the lake and the surrounding landscape are what keeps her in St. Albert. She’s committed to continuing to fight to have an overhead power line buried in the park, which kills migratory birds. Blodgett also wants to see cleaner water in the river, the removal of thistles in the park and the finalization of the environmental cleanup at Riel Recreation Park.
On the power line issue, Blodgett said two of three parties – the Alberta government and AltaLink – are willing to go ahead on the project. They are waiting on the City of St. Albert to approve funding, which was removed from the budget for 2013 during this year’s budget process.
“The line is on City property,” she said. “[It’s] one-third the City, one-third government and one-third AltaLink; they will do the labour for free. Legally, that power line could no longer be built there nowadays, because it’s in the flight path of too many migratory birds.”
After what she characterized as a “long battle” for the environment, Blodgett isn’t ready to stop fighting. She’s often walking in the park, taking along her trusted walking stick and her camera. She feels that she’s there to protect the last healthy lake in the region, one that supports so many species of birds, who also flock to the lagoon, near “Elke’s Peninsula.”
“You watch the strangest birds in there that aren’t anywhere else,” she said with a chuckle. “I’m usually in there with my stick chasing out [all-terrain vehicles] and trucks and people with dogs who are throwing sticks at ducks and geese.”
The peninsula offers a place of quiet contemplation and communion with nature, Blodgett said. She’s glad to have her name placed on such a place of beauty and tranquility.
“I’m an artist, so, for years, this entire area has been an inspiration and a quiet, meditating spot,” Blodgett said. “I watch the sunset almost every night from there. Magnificent. Whenever I can get out there, I watch it.”