Half a lifetime caring for the Crowsnest

By RIchard Burke

Those of you who knew Mike Lamb would be aware of his great love of the outdoors, in particular of the Crowsnest Pass area of southwest Alberta. He spent more than half his life there, trying to improve what he found when he first saw it, taking care of it, nurturing it, advocating for it, showing it off and making sure the world knew about it.Burmisflood

His beloved Crowsnest River flows past the place where he and wife Laurie built their house and cabins that drew friends from around the world to his B and B. He wouldn’t call himself a guide, but he revelled in taking friends and visitors – who all became his friends – to the infinite fly-fishing spots in the area, in Alberta and Southeastern B.C. and into Montana.

He recognized quickly the Crowsnest River was a fly-fishing gem. Friends like Joe Coccioloni, Edo Scodellero, Lorne Fitch, Don Anderson, Jerry Avoledo, Clyde Park, Don Townsend, Gerald Makin, Gino Maruka and–Vic Bergman shared a knowledge of the place gained over their lifetimes and helped him come to know intimately the wealth of fishing in the southwest.

Just upstream from his house “beside the pink bridge” on the Burmis Road was a stretch of land alongside the Crow that for years was leased from the province by a local rancher, who ultimately lost the lease. Mike saw an opportunity to do something unique with that lease. In 2002, 2 km of Crownest River waterfront and 140 adjacent acres upstream of Burmis Lake was leased for 25 years by the Oldman River Chapter Trout Unlimited Canada. The Chapter, largely under Mike’s leadership, with the help early on of Malcolm Bennett and lots of others including Clive Schaupmeyer, took on stewardship of the land. The place is now cherished by fly-fishers, equestrians, dog-walking pedestrians, hikers and wildlife for its solitude, wildness and forest/fish habitat.

Mike also saw another piece of Crown land along the Crow downstream of the Hillcrest Bridge that badly needed TLC. It was a reclaimed slag pile from the coal mining days of the early 20th century. (Friend Edo was born in a cabin at the downstream end of the property.)
Through neglect after the province had reclaimed the land in the latter part of last century, a mud-bog had been allowed to develop along the river within sight of the Crowsnest Highway. Vehicles had unrestricted access and people took advantage of it, even when it rained.

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With the help of Varge Craig, of Alberta Rangeland Services, that all changed when the Oldman Chapter leased the land in 2007, agreeing to play a stewardship role along another 2 km of Crowsnest river frontage.
Shell Oil helped by installing a gate at the top end to limit vehicle traffic. CP Rail provided foot access across its land where the tracks came close to the river.

The restrictions were a concern for locals accustomed to driving down to their favourite fishing hole, but most accepted the need for the change and like others who visit there by foot, see the vast improvement in the landscape and fishery. Mike took the early lead on that lease. Bill Paton in recently years has kept a watchful eye on it for the chapter.

Both the Burmis and Hillcrest conservation leases are prime examples of the capacity for habitat to recover when it’s given a chance to by people like Mike and all those who have helped with weed and garbage clean-up, old barbed-wire fence removal, parking lots and simple amenities just off the leases and access for a gentler experience.

Mike Lamb’s funeral mass is 11 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 21 at the Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Blairmore. Wife Laurie has asked that if people want to remember Mike in a concrete way, they can donate to the Oldman River Chapter Trout Unlimited Canada, 1313 7th Ave. S. Lethbridge AB  T1J1K9 or The Alberta Conservation Association, ACA Blairmore, Box 1139, Provincial Building, Blairmore, AB T0K 0E0. Both groups will continue to provide stewardship and other efforts to help maintain and improve southern Alberta’s amazing, but needy, fishery.

If you wish the donation to go to TUC and would like a tax receipt, send it to Trout Unlimited Canada, Suite 160, 6712 Fisher Street SE, Calgary, AB  T2H 2A7.

A big thanks to a group of fishing friends from Calgary which donated $225 to the chapter to help continue Mike’s work. Larry Stevens, Rob McKee, Scott Martin, Dave van Meetelen, Doug Balsden, Mike Feeney, Mike Reimer, Bill Newman and Brian Johnstone participated in the donation “honouring our friend.”

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