HJERTAAS REFLECTS ON FATHER’S LEGACY
by Calvin Daniels
Warren Hjertaas and his wife Elinore have left a natural legacy to Yorkton which anyone can enjoy by simply taking a walk into nature.
Warren was one of the driving forces in the city to establish the ecological preserve on Yorkton’s west side, and Saturday his son Dale reflected on his father’s efforts in a presentation to the Yellowhead Flyway Birding Trail Association’s Annual General Meeting.
“I had a lot of experience with Dad and Mom out on the trail,” he said, as he began the retrospective of his now deceased parents. “It was a bit of a ritual…every time we were in Yorkton.”
Hjertaas said it was from his father in particular he learned a broad appreciation of nature.
“One of the things I learned from my dad… was to look at all of nature. Part of being with Dad, he looked down at the rocks: he looked up at the birds,” Dale said.
For Warren, nature was always important, starting with his time spent on the farm at Wakaw. He was also walking the pasture and among the trees, more so at times things weighed on his mind.
“It was his way of dealing with stress,” said Dale.
The couple would move to Yorkton in 1977, and for Warren “the desire of a place he could get too…to take a walk,” moved with him,” said Dale.
It was soon after arriving Warren discovered the ravine and wetlands, finding “it a good spot to see wildlife.”
Here was a place of trees, wetlands and grasslands, with squirrels, rabbits, ducks and wildflowers “yet it was inside the city limits so it was very convenient,” said Dale.
Even now it’s the natural state of the ravine which makes it so special.
“It’s in the city limits but you can still be peaceful and alone there,” said Dale. “You can get away from the city, yet you don’t have to leave it.”
Dale, who has worked with Nature Saskatchewan, and now with the Saskatchewan Watershed Authority, said the ravine is somewhat unique in the province.
“A number of communities have something, but Yorkton I would say probably has the nicest spot there is,” he said. “…Having a wilderness trail still in the city, Yorkton is the only place they’ve done it…For a city park it is a very rich ecological area.”
At the time Warren arrived in Yorkton in the late 1970s the ravine area was totally wild, but he saw the potential for more.
“It seemed to have potential as a natural park, but was being used a dump,” said Dale.
Then Warren met Lorne Lepp a high school biology teacher in Yorkton, finding a soulmate regarding the ravine,” said Dale.
“It was a meeting of minds about the ravine,” said Dale.
Lepp saw the unique area, with its three distinct habitats “as a teaching tool for students and adults alike,” said Dale.
It was a philosophy Warren agreed with.
One of the things dad thought was very important…was the ability to take school children out into a natural environment, and let them learn,” said Dale.
The pair began working on convincing the City to designate the ravine a park in the early 1980s, and by May, 1985, Council set the bundaries for the Ecological Preserve.
A few months earlier, on Labour Day 1984,Warren and Elinore along with Lorne Lepp and his wife Marilyn had begun creating a nature trail through the ravine area.
“It was a lot easier getting people excited about something when they could see the benefit, not only a concept,” said Dale. “…Warren was the axe man. Marilyn piled brush. Lorne used the chainsaw.”
The trail soon came to the marsh, and thoughts of creating a boardwalk out into the marsh took shape.
“Some way of getting out into the marsh was immensely interesting to everyone,” said Dale.
A Saskatchewan Lotteries grant of $40 000 through Nature Saskatchewan started the process, creating a boardwalk into the middle of the marsh, but going nowhere as the dollars ran out.
“That was the beginning of the boardwalk,” said Dale. “We had this boardwalk to nowhere for several years.”
Finally though, local groups such as the Rotary Club and Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation donated enough money to push the boardwalk across the wetlands.
“The other big issue that really bothered Dad was the garbage dump,” on the ravine’s south end near the highway. “…Eventually the city was persuaded to haul in dirt and bury the dump.”
Over the ensuing years trees were planted to landscape the old dump, signs added to enhance the trail, and a picnic area at one end created for families.
In time too, the trail through the park would be named the Warren Hjertaas Nature Trail, something Dale said he still holds as a high honour for his father.
“I was immensely proud of that, that Dad got that recognition. I’m really proud of the work he did.
Calvin Daniels is a staff writer at Yorkton This Week. This article was published in Yorkton This Week on Wednesday, February 22, 2006