Police Point Park offers many hiking opportunities near the South Saskatchewan River in Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada.
Main parking for the approximately 98 hectare (242 acre) Police Point Park is located at the Nature Center following a short drive past the park entrance to the end of the road. Today's hiking objective is completion of a loop around the park using the main pavement trail or reasonable options which provide a more natural experience. The natural hiking options are far in excess of expectation.
Maps and brochures available at the Nature Center provide a plethora of valuable direction and information. Resident staff can provide invaluable information during hours of operation. Significant construction along the north shore of the South Saskatchewan River, combined with fencing for the Medicine Hat Golf and Country Club, reduce or outright eliminate access to some important features of Police Point Park on this particular day. More later.
Signage leaving the Nature Center is clear and the hike begins in dense mature forest passing the edge of the golf course where spectacular views past grassland provide perspective for the enormity and beauty of the river valley intersecting the center of Medicine Hat. Paved trail immediately provides more natural alternatives with close access to the north shoreline of the South Saskatchewan River.
Hiking features on this day in late September include the beginning of autumn color combined with substantial flood debris among towering and naturally cluttered Cottonwood trees. River adjacent, trail-side gravel paths host the occasional short sections of sandy trail where high water levels have swept across the flat delta. Towering and awkward Cottonwood trees form impressive arches over hiking trails.
The combination of main and subsidiary trails create a hiking experience with a broad range of natural features that inevitably lead to the shores of the South Saskatchewan River. On the far side of the river, towering cliffs stand testament to millenniums of river silt deposits being created as the severe turn in the major watercourse contributed to the deepening valley. These majestic cliffs show signs of mining operations for the high quality clay which continues to be used by artisans and manufacturers locally and around the world.
The trails at riverside weave their way through and past wetlands. Impressive deposits of flood debris harbor burgeoning small animal and avian life to create interesting trail-side features. A substantial network of trail options provide access to wide open vistas and shoreline hiking where a plethora of birds and less obvious wildlife animate the experience.
Trail passes through a broad variety of wilderness terrain or, optionally, on paved trail with apron and fields of grass backed by forest. Return to parking clarifies that attendance in the park this day is sparse due to cooler temperatures, heavily overcast skies and marginally inclement weather. The diffused light reduces the need to manage shadows in the photographs and provides realistic and mellow color interpretations.
The Nature Centre in Police Point Park remains open year round, five days per week but closes every Sunday and Monday. At this impressive public facility, it is possible to rent GPS units to be used for locating predetermined or dynamically assembled geocaches. In winter, gear rental is available from the Nature Center to facilitate snowshoe or cross country ski adventures.
In very early years the land's moniker was determined by the establishment of a North West Mounted Police post whose primary duties included maintaining order, monitoring the fur trade and policing whisky trade within the rapidly expanding populations driven by industry and historical presence. The rapid development of commerce promoted by railway expansion, combined with historical and convenient access via the South Saskatchewan River, became the foundation for robust and occasionally less disciplined city expansion.
Discovery and development of a massive natural gas field just west of Medicine Hat fueled the potential for rapid and dramatic growth. The Royal Northwest Mounted Police Barracks was erected in 1883 on a bluff overlooking the South Saskatchewan River across from the rapidly expanding metropolis. The post expanded to 13 buildings housing 25 men and their horses at its maximum size located above a river crossing with it's own Police Point ferry landing.
Arrival of the railroad and rapid growth of Medicine Hat motivated relocation of the installation across the river into the town of Medicine Hat in 1893.
All that remains of the original historical NWMP presence is a brass memorial plaque on a formidable rock cairn dedicated on September 29, 1933. The cairn is located near the third tee of the Medicine Hat Golf and Country Club. This surprised me as well.
Normally a path behind the Nature Center leads down slope to picnic grounds and a recreational area along the north shore of the South Saskatchewan River allowing access to the cairn by path aggressively ascending the side of the river valley. During this visit, substantial heavy construction along the river bank has this access completely fenced off from any access near or via the Nature Center.
Alternative access is achieved by a drive out of the park to a left turn west onto Parkview Drive NE followed by another left turn a short distance further for entrance into the clearly signed and, on this day, very busy Medicine Hat Golf and Country Club. Parking is a competitive event in the massive lot consumed by plus-sized pickup trucks. Staff at the Medicine Hat Golf and Country Club are both cordial and helpful with directions and offer a complementary golf cart to transport myself to the site about a kilometer away. There is no sense in placing my life or the lives of golfers in considerable jeopardy so walking directions past the driving range and along the scenic upper edge of the river valley will suffice. What's another quick 2 KM return among hikers?
An inordinate number of bunnies, with measured disregard for human presence, populate the route straight along the top of the north shore bluffs over the South Saskatchewan River. Past the first green and near the end of the second fairway the large and conspicuous monument dominates the location near the third tee off. There is no remaining evidence of the location where the historic NWMP post functioned for approximately a decade.
Gardens near the clubhouse at the Medicine Hat Golf and Country Club, even at the end of summer, are impressive and warrant time taken for a few photographs.
The hike at Police Point Park can be expanded or contracted to provide a broad combination of duration and scale of hiking effort. Formal and documented trails count for only a small portion of the available potential. Subsidiary informal trails are well traveled and easy to track providing the opportunity for an excellent and custom wilderness experience. Bird watching is justifiably a big deal here with plenty of nesting sites supporting a wide variety of avian species. The facility is impressive and there is more opportunity than expected. There are also hiking opportunities that enter and leave the park for more urban experiences.