An area conservation society is taking steps to draw attention to a little-known gem in our own backyard. 

Nestled between Highway 28 and the Sturgeon River in Gibbons is a unique ecological zone you wouldn’t typically expect to see this far north. The Gibbons Badlands, or Gibbons Cactus Prairie, is a desert-like area akin to the Drumheller area. 

The Sturgeon River cut deep into the bedrock millions of years ago, exposing clay and sediment, in turn creating the distinctive area. 

“This area has been mostly undisturbed by farming, this particular stretch, so it’s almost like a living museum of the pre-settlement prairie,” explained Harvey Voogd, a board member with the North Saskatchewan River Valley Conservation Society. 

Approximately 155 plant species can be found in this area, including the brittle prickly pear cactus. According to Voogd, the Badlands zone is the furthest north you can find this cactus species. Additionally, it’s home to a number of native grasses, butterflies, birds and other animals. 

The area has come under threat in recent years, particularly from the use of off-highway vehicles and snowmobiles trampling the area. The Town of Gibbons has taken steps to protect the area; however, some ignore the signs and fencing.  

“Anytime there’s light snow cover or melting, it causes a lot of damage. Then, in the non-winter months, some off-road vehicles love to go through there too, and of course, they’re hard on the landscape, particularly if there’s been any moisture,” said Voogd. 

“It doesn’t just kill plant life, whether it’s cacti or other plant life. But once ruts are in place and it rains again, the damage just gets exasperated by the rutting and the water runoff.” 

Voogd said as the Edmonton region continues to grow, he hopes people will enjoy and want to care for one of the area’s unknown treasures. 

“It’s a beautiful area. I encourage people to visit it, but it really needs the respect that it deserves.”