Sandy beaches at Sylvan are a thing of the past

As a young boy back in the ’60s I longed for the summertime at the beach.

Dear Editor,

As a young boy back in the ’60s I longed for the summertime at the beach. I would tell Mom I’m off to the beach and jump on my trusty old Glider, I called Scout. That was the name of Tonto’s horse for those of you that don’t remember.

I’d have my diving mask, my flippers, snorkel and towel and head on down to the beach to swim with the perch. No dolphins in Sylvan. In the shallow waters just east of the boathouse, where the Norell was moored, there were schools upon schools of perch that would come into the warm waters to feed or just bask in the sunshine.

You’d have to walk out 100 feet or so until finally the water got up to your waist and then you dive in and search and swim after and try and capture those wary perch. I did see an occasional pike but I made sure I was going in the opposite direction as I wanted to keep all my toes.

After many a frustrating attempt at chasing the perch I would give up and head on into the shallow waters where the water would be oh so warm it’s almost like sitting in your bathtub except for the sloppy sand underneath your feet. You would scoop up the dripping sand in your hands and throw it out over the water spraying the water as if you have fired a shot gun into the water.

Tired you would lay back in the shallow water looking up at the blue sky watching for those pesky seagulls flying high overhead that might attempt to bomb you from above at any moment.

Out of the water and up onto the wet sandy shore to start looking for jellyfish or snail shells. Jellyfish to pick up and tossed back into the water and after you have explored the intricate design on the snail shells you just crunch them up in your fingers and blow the remains over the water.

If you didn’t park your runners close to the water’s edge you would really have to scurry across the hot sand in order to get to your towel and it was a never ending ouch, ouch, ouch with feet burning all away. It seemed on those hot sunny days at the beach, at least to a young boy, it looked like there were thousands of people on the sandy beach for as far as the eye could see in the water, building sand castles, tossing beach balls or just basking in the sun looking like a boiled lobster.

Those were the days! Sandy beaches, shallow warm waters and if you had 25¢ in your pocket you could run across to the Center where Mrs. Leedham made the best french fries in town. Bless her soul.

Now I digress. So what can the young boys and girls do today on the shores of Sylvan Lake? A little volleyball maybe on hauled in sand on a breakwater, retaining walls to stop shore erosion, don’t fall off the retaining wall or you could drown, a thin strip of green area to walk your dog, chalet styled restrooms with a lake view, aging poplars. But yes we do have one heck of a big parking lot near the shore, a real nice playground for the tots and a lot of nice chairs. But no sandy beach. No warm shallow water to play in and definitely no perch to search for.

There are number of ideas that get tossed around at council meetings from multi-million dollar retaining walls to a truck load of sand but are there any discussions on how the lake level can be maintained? That would be good for all concerned. I’m speaking about recreational users, fisheries, wildlife, landowners and anyone or any creature that lives in or near the lake.

Before summer arrived I would ride Scout out to the outlet creek (Sylvan Creek) that would flow under Highway 20, to catch pike so I could take my revenge on those potential toe eating fish. I would trudge around in hip waders just out from where the creek went under the highway. The creek was always too deep to cross in hip waiters. So I had to go up and over around on the highway to get over to the north or the south side to retrieve my snagged lure on the opposite bank. I remember doing that a lot. Up and over, up and over.

Today as you drive by on Highway 20 looking west towards the lake it almost looks as if the outflow is higher than the water laying in the old creek bed on the east side of the highway. Optical illusion, maybe.

But did all this back fill for the proposed housing development along the shoreline cause the creek to fill in thus acting like a weir creating a higher land elevation thus higher lake levels? The backfill certainly destroyed a vast amount of fish and bird habitat. I guess a little research on the outlet as it was before heavy equipment changed the entire course of the creek and a surveyor might be able to help tell us if this might be a problem with the elevation of the outflow being too high and too narrow. But yet again, maybe this was intentional.

Did I just happen to mention weir? Weir is a barrier designed to alter water flow characteristics.

There was an engineering report released in 1978 that indicated since 1958 Sylvan Lake fluctuated over a four foot range. It stated that extreme water levels, whether high or low, detract from the full potential of the recreation resources of the area. When was the last time anyone remembers seeing sand on the beach along Lakeshore Drive?

According to the report water levels on Sylvan Lake between 3071.5 and 3072.0 would appear to be the most desirable for recreation however these levels are somewhat lower than the mean recorded level between 1958 and 1978 which was 3072.7.

The 1978 report was not in favour of constructing a weir due to the cost, the difficulty in maintaining the structure and operational conflicts would outweigh the benefits. And to me, the report was somewhat biased as if Cygnet Lake water levels were more of a priority than Sylvan. Maybe written by an engineer that would sun burn easily but loved duck hunting.

Maybe after 30+ years it might make sense to revisit the aspect of a weir on Sylvan as a considerable amount of alteration has occurred to the mouth of the creek and to the entire watercourse of Sylvan Creek.

Just consider for a moment all of the benefits that would be derived from a lower and maintained lake level. What about the dollar value on the enjoyment and benefit of maintaining the water level on Sylvan Lake for all recreational users? What about the economic benefits to businesses during the summer if there was, say 20+ meters of sand down the entire length of Lakeshore Drive? Imagine the vast number of people that could actually enjoy the beach and lake.

But the bantering of ideas back and forth on the high water issue in chambers will continue. Shorelines around the entire lake will continue to erode and fall into the lake.

Evaporation just doesn’t cut it anymore, as I ask again, when was the last time you observed sand along the shoreline in the Town of Sylvan Lake? The next time a councillor meets with a staff member from the Department of Environment they might want to ask how many lakes in Alberta have a weir at the outlet. They might be surprised.

I feel sad for those young boys and girls and my grandchildren that will never have the great many summers at the beach on Sylvan that I enjoyed as a boy. All I can do now is just tell them stories of how great it once was.

Dean Watkiss,

Sylvan Lake