Summer 2020 was unlike any other as the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled travel plans, closed or reduced admittance at pools and made masks and physical distancing the norm. It's no surprise if you’re feeling a little robbed by the arrival of autumn; however, the change in season can be one of excitement if you embrace what it has to offer.
With vacations postponed, many people chose to invest in their outdoor space throughout the summer. There is no reason to abandon that backyard oasis just because fall has arrived.
The easiest way to adjust to chilly autumn temperatures is to add some heat. There are a variety of propane or electric patio heaters and portable propane fire pits available on the market that will add warmth to your space at the flick of a switch. For something more rustic and hands-on, building a fire pit can be a relatively inexpensive weekend project.
Before beginning, ensure you have approval from the City and, if applicable, your homeowner's association. The City of Airdrie's fire pit regulations requires a minimum of three-metres clearance (measured from the nearest fire pit edge) from buildings, property lines or other combustible material. The height of the pit cannot exceed 60 centimetres (cm) and the opening must be less than one metre in width. Additionally, a mesh screen constructed of expanded metal or equivalent non-combustible material, with openings no larger than 1.25 cm must be utilized. The City requires an enclosed pit with sides made from bricks, concrete blocks or heavy gauge metal.
Visit airdrie.ca and search “fire pit regulations” for more information about clay fire pots and propane fire pits.
While adhering to size constraints outlined by the municipality, also consider what you intend for the space. Do you want a larger pit to accommodate multiple people around it? Or is a smaller, more intimate pit better suited to your needs? A shorter pit better allows those gathered around to prop their feet on the edge and warm chilly toes. If young children will be in regular attendance, a higher pit helps provide a barrier between the child and the fire.
Basic pit construction, according to bobvila.com, takes only a few hours, “using tools no more sophisticated than a shovel and mallet.” However, you’ll also need marking tape, concrete retaining wall blocks, sand, gravel, a level and masonry adhesive.
To begin, excavate eight inches of dirt within the fire pit ring, pour in a two-inch-thick layer of sand and tamp down to ensure it’s compact and level. Lay the first layer of blocks around the edge of the pit and tap the blocks as necessary with the mallet to establish a level base. Stagger the next layer of blocks, creating a slight lip around the outside edge, and attach the layers with masonry adhesive.
“To promote air circulation around the fire, leave small, intermittently-located gaps between the blocks,” the Vila site states.
Before laying the final two layers, add four inches of gravel to the cavity. Allow two days to ensure the adhesive is completely dry and always check albertafirebans.ca for local fire restrictions before starting a fire.
“Using a fire pit during a fire ban can result in a fine of up to $2,500,” according to the City.
While gathering around a roaring fire is delightful, there is more to fall than finding warmth. Autumn is a great time to head out on a day trip, but make sure you have the most up-to-date COVID response information from the location you are heading to before you go, as many activities have reduced admittance.
Whether preparing a culinary masterpiece or pickling for year-round enjoyment, September brings foodies the chance to procure the freshest produce possible at u-pick farms. Potatoes, carrots, onions and – until frost arrives – peas, beans, zucchini, cucumbers and pumpkins are all in season at Eagle Creek Farms. The drive to the Bowden-area farm takes less than 50 minutes from Airdrie, and the farm is home to not only u-pick vegetable and flower gardens, but a farmer’s market and a sunflower maze grown from 100,000 sunflowers.
Other family-farm-fun options within an hour’s drive of Airdrie are Kaybean Farms Sunshine Adventure Park (about 40 minutes from Airdrie), Calgary Farmyard (about a 35-minute drive from Airdrie), Cobb’s Adventure Park (approximately 25 minutes away) and Butterfield Acres (also about a 25-minute drive). All traditionally offer fall-themed events in September and October that include pumpkin picking, while providing beautiful backdrops for photos.
For those seeking a slightly sweeter experience, an approximately 50-minute drive will find you at Chinook Honey Company for a day of shopping and learning at a sustainable Alberta honey farm. Open year-round, Chinook Honey Company offers educational programs from Bee Basics to Backstage with the Bees where participants (12 and older) don bee suits and immerse themselves in the life of a beekeeper. Also on site is Alberta’s first meadery – Chinook Arch Meadery – and a honey bee interpretive area with a glass observation hive.
For many, thoughts of fall invoke images of leaves changing from rich greens to warm yellows, oranges and reds. A fabulous way to take in the beauty of autumn is to enjoy a hike or leisurely walk in Alberta’s stunning backyard.
The more than 25 kilometres (km) of walking and biking trails at Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park, located near Cochrane, showcase beautiful mountain views, aspen forests and towering cottonwoods. The 1.8-km Tiger Lily Loop is one of the best family-friendly options to see the autumn colours of the aspens before climbing to a mountain-view lookout.
Another popular day hike is Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park. Although it's about a two-hour drive from Airdrie, the “fairly easy” trail is “perfect for families and people of all fitness levels,” according to banffandbeyond.com
The forest trail to the lower falls leads to catwalks affixed to the limestone cliffs alongside Johnston Creek, allowing hikers access to the canyon previously only accessible to climbers. A one-way trip to the lower falls takes about 30 minutes and covers 1.1 km.
The 2.6-km trail to the upper falls leads hikers through the forest and out of the lower canyon, offering scenic views of the falls and the changing forest. A return trip to the upper falls takes two to two-and-a-half hours.
Those who tackle the additional 3-km climb beyond the upper falls are rewarded with the Ink Pots, “several pools made up of greenish coloured mineral springs that bubble to the surface," according to Banff and Beyond. The “moderate” climb takes an additional hour and allows nature-lovers a bit of solitude as most visitors don’t go beyond the upper falls.
Whether filled with chunky knits and pumpkin spice drinks around a fire pit or hitting the road to gather goodies, get some exercise or take in the scenic view, the season has much to fall in love with.