Sue Higgins Park occupies a flat section of grassland near the Bow River in southeast Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Formerly named Southland Park, the expansive, flat, grassland area has long been known as a place for dogs to run and play with unfettered abandon. In early morning, the large gravel parking area at the terminus of Southand Drive SE, east of Deerfoot Trail, and adjacent to the west side of the Bow River, is nearly full and bustling with people and their canine companions. During this two hour hike there was not a single altercation between the animals.
The 62 hectare (153 acre) park has changed dramatically since the last visit more than a decade earlier. The effects of the June 2013 major flood event remain dramatic and the large grassy area is now enclosed by many large, variable size corrals formed by wooden post and rail fence covered on the inside with chicken wire to create the largest, secure, off-leash dog area within the city. Access into individual areas is through spring-loaded, swinging metal gates which close behind automatically
In the beginning, the array of confusing corrals is disorienting but near term perseverance locates the paved Bow Valley Pathway extending north to south through the center of the park. A right turn south finds the park becoming more familiar and comfortable from past memories of cycling along the Bow River in a former life. Air is fresh and morning sun against the skin is therapeutic.
The paved pathway heading south is enclosed on both sides by fencing to create a series of off leash areas for the dogs and their owners. Well balanced and spring loaded gates provide entrance and exit from the entirely enclosed areas. The pathway passes mound features in the fenced area near the driving range along Deerfoot Trail before exiting the south end of Sue Higgins Park and winding past the massive and fenced Lafarge Plant.
Returning North re-enters Sue Higgins Park past fenced and gated exits along the route adjacent to the Bow River which leads on gravel path to additional recreation areas for the dogs. Included are small enclosed beaches where dogs can enjoy a refreshing swim in the Bow River. They seem very happy.
The aftermath of the June 2013 flood event is conspicuous. Tangled lumber and flattened brush lie testament to the power of fast-running and powerful water breaching riverbanks. This large flat area, only a few feet above river level, would be particularly vulnerable.
On the return trek north using gravel path adjacent to the Bow River, there are enclosed areas with benches where dog owners can relax and enjoy the beach area with dogs who are chasing after sticks thrown into the Bow River. The formidable and attractive Eric Harvie Bridge spans the Bow River where Sue Higgins Park occupies the west shore and the east shoreline hosts green belt south of Carburn Park on the opposite side of the Bow River.
Following the capture of photographs upstream and downstream of the Bow River from the center of the Eric Harvie Bridge, a short retreat to the paved Bow Valley Pathway allows hiking north past the parking area to investigate the northern reaches of Sue Higgins Park.
In this section, the east side of the trail is a fenced off wilderness area adjacent to the Bow River. On the west side of the paved Bow Valley Pathway a very large and fenced off leash dog area provides a number of mound and log bridge features as the area narrows into fencing adjacent to the apron separating very busy and noisy Deerfoot Trail.
A new grove of trees has been planted to create a future forest at the north end of the enclosed area. Interestingly, there is no access to the off-leash dog area at this north end. In retrospect, the correct approach to achieving the loop is via trail on the inside the enclosure.
The Deux Chiens Assis is missed on this hike. The artistic feature did not show up on today's route and had, frankly, been forgotten. The artistic feature created by French artist, Henri Jacquemart, is documented on the City of Calgary Parks website and is located near Nora Tuckey's Grove near the driving range in the southwest section of the park.
Return to the parking area a couple of hours from beginning finds serious parking congestion with vehicles waiting for space and nearby access roads fully consumed within reasonable walking range.
Sue Higgins was a popular and colorful city councilor.