June 09, 2015

A Prairie Oasis: How dirty coal made the cleanest park in Alberta

Sean McCormickRebel Blogger

Prairie Oasisowned and operated by the Special Areas Board – is a recreational area sitting astride a man-made lake about half an hour south of Hanna, Alberta. Easy access to it was definitely a plus for us when we moved to Hanna this past summer. It has a fantastic beach, lots of space for day use, and the wildlife is plentiful. 

The park is highly ranked by RVers, with a large number of powered sites. There are also plenty of spots for those who like to rough it in a tent. Boating nuts will enjoy the small, well-maintained marina.

This is probably the cleanest campground in Alberta, bar none. It’s very rare to see litter, the beach is practically cigarette butt and beer can free, and the washroom facilities are immaculate. A very pleasant change from what I’m used to encountering.

One of the nice features for photographers is that the main access road cuts through a portion of the lake and gives you an opportunity to shoot sunrises to the east and also sunsets to the west later in the day.



You’ll find a fair amount of wildlife out during the early hours of the morning, deer in particular. I’ve also spotted muskrats and the odd coyote sneaking around the periphery of the oasis. The birdsong is almost deafening.

If you’re a birder, there is a very nicely maintained 10 km trail that runs around the lake. One point on the trail features a wooden footbridge that looks over a large reflecting pond. There is no shortage of species on display. They’re a bit skittish around humans, so you may need a long lens and a short wait at some points to get the shot you’re after. The mosquitoes are surprisingly tolerable – nothing a bit of bug spray can’t cope with.

Simply put, Prairie Oasis is one of the nicer parks in Alberta. And it is the complete opposite of what I expected when I was first told about it.

You see, the “lake” at Prairie Oasis park is actually the cooling pond for Sheerness Generating Station (it operates on a closed loop system). Sheerness is a coal-fired thermal generating station that went into service in 1984. I had always been under the impression that coal is a dirty energy source. I’ve seen pictures of soot-stained buildings in Europe, smokestacks spewing black crud, etc., etc. When you’re raised by a hippie single mother who voted NDP, this is all you know. Everything I learned in public schools reinforced this knowledge. Everyone knows how dirty coal is, right? Right?

It was a real shock for me to see how clean this park was. The Alberta park that I expected to be the dirtiest and most polluted was anything but. When you do as much landscape photography as I have, you know what pollution and industrial blight look like. There’s none to be seen at this park that shares a coal plant’s cooling pond as a recreational space.



My shock was doubled when I learned that right across the highway from the Sheerness station sits a coal strip mine operated by the Westmoreland Coal Company. After all, we all know how dirty coal mining is too. We’ve seen it in how many movies?

I was thinking of all of these things this morning while on a photography outing at the park. My personal photography output has been lacklustre as of late, so I figured some sunrise photos at a pristine location should be just the thing to get the creative juices flowing. All the while I was shooting I was examining the contrast of the obviously healthy environment around me with everything I had been taught about coal generated power in my youth.

This topic is of particular concern to Albertans because a significant portion of our energy comes from coal-fired thermal plants like Sheerness Generating Station. Generating stations that our new NDP government in the province wants to shut down.

While I realize that is due in part to misconceptions about CO2 and the part it plays in “global warming” (that only seems to happen in computer models), opponents of coal consistently vilify it as being unclean. Not this particular generating station, anyhow. After a year of living in Hanna I’ve come to know many people who work at the plant, and all of them are proud of how the plant’s emissions are significantly below what is mandated by the government.


I would challenge any Alberta MLA who thinks that coal has no place as an energy source in our future to do one thing: Camp for a week at Prairie Oasis this summer. It’ll change your mind. After all, it changed mine.

My pictures from the morning’s outing can be found in a Flickr album. I hope they will inspire those who live outside of our area to come see firsthand how private enterprise and local government can leverage an energy generating plant, turning it into not only a tourism opportunity and wildlife refuge, but also a boon to local employment. It’s worth seeing firsthand.


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commented 2015-12-13 20:37:15 -0500
You can thank “hippy environmentalists” like your mom for putting enough pressure on governments and industry over the years so that they DO strive to preserve the local environment for you to enjoy. It’s not a mark against environmentalists that this region is beautiful, its a mark FOR.
commented 2015-12-10 17:26:12 -0500
I would suggest NEVILLE B has never been to Prairie Oasis, Hanna or any of the other surrounding communities. If he had, he’d know that there are a number of very good fishing locations in the region …. and yes, the Sheerness Cooling Pond is not one of them, nor was it ever intended to be.

I want to thank John Armstrong fro his hours of work making Praire Oasis a true oasis and the other visionaries of the Special Areas who made them what they are …. SPECIAL!!

Neville can stick with his No Democratic Process cronies!!!
commented 2015-07-29 23:18:44 -0400
Thanks NEVILLE B for proving Sean’s point…
commented 2015-06-17 14:26:35 -0400
As per Jodi’s comments, the ‘lake’ is not and was never intended for fishing, but all involved have done a wonderful job of taking what could have been a lemon and serving everyone lemonade instead. Prairie Oasis is a great place to swim, boat, camp, and go birding. Those interested in fishing in the area are advised to check out Blood Indian Reservoir, about half an hour to the east. Well-maintained, well-stocked, and another good example of proper environmental stewardship.
commented 2015-06-13 02:29:01 -0400
Thank you for seeing the park for what it really is! I am also a local from the area and have personally worked in the park! To those who would like to see us “catch a fish in the lake,” that would be impossible because it’s not a lake. Prairie oasis is a cooling pond which means that the power plant pumps the hot water out, into the lake, and sucks the cooled water back into the plant in another area. The fact is, there is no energy source yet that is 100% self supporting and clean. Even “green” energy is manufactured by companies using power from coal mines etc. This park merely aims to make the best of a touchy situation. The park is well maintained and looked after because the people who work there, care.
commented 2015-06-11 11:53:38 -0400
These coal plants are far better stewards of the environment than the wind turbine riff raff.
commented 2015-06-10 23:12:25 -0400
Lets not forget this is a blog post by a photographer… not a entry into a scientific journal. Even a link to an industry funded study would have, at the very least, suggested you had attempted to research what you have said here. It’s 2015 and we’re still seeing the words global warming in parenthesis – not a good sign for humanity. I would challenge anyone to try and catch a fish in this “lake.” Our environment deserves much more respect, as does your “hippie single mother who voted NDP.”
commented 2015-06-10 22:38:05 -0400
120 km to the north sits Big Knife Provincial Park. It is located at the Battle River Generating Station. It’s not to shabby either.
commented 2015-06-09 17:14:53 -0400
“leftists readily believe what others tell them but completely ignore facts that don’t fit with what they believe to be the truth.” Lefties never let reality or facts get in the way of their push for Socialism. Usually accomplished by raising voices, shouting, being obnoxious, stomping about and hurling insults at those who have a different viewpoint.
commented 2015-06-09 15:58:03 -0400
It sounds to me incredible. To the NDP it might sound like trouble. After all the winsome ones have a NDP slant to project and this has to be squashed or their image might suffer.
Our tax dollars might dwindle under the NDP and the pushback might be a problem in the future.
I am Conservative. But then there are different brands of Conservatism.
commented 2015-06-09 15:17:14 -0400
Nice photos, it’s such a shame that the leftists readily believe what others tell them but completely ignore facts that don’t fit with what they believe to be the truth.