The first of what is hoped to be three sunshades in the Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park is now being enjoyed by park visitors.

The sunshade was funded by The Great Trail (Trans Canada Trail) in honour of Alberta statesman and former premier Jim Prentice, who was known for his passionate support and interest in parks and conservation.

Designed and built by Capital Renovations, the shelter is meant to look like a traditional farmer’s lean-to with plenty of seating for a rest or picnic. The wide opening of the shelter was designed with wheelchairs and large strollers in mind. It's located on the west side of the park along the Bowbend Trail.

"They wanted to do something for Jim and we thought this was really neat, a little bit different than a bench or a rock or anything like that. It fit in with the park, and it also filled  a need," explains Carson Duggan, of the Glenbow Ranch Park Foundation (GRPF). "It worked out really well."

"The park being so vast, that's one thing that was lacking here, especially on these hot days that we've  had in the last couple of weeks, is there's no shelter from the sun or the rain, for that matter."

Two other locations for sunshades have been approved by Alberta Parks, and GRPF welcomes donations to help make it possible. The shelters cost about $15,000 apiece to construct.

Duggan says this is just one of the many capital projects being completed in the park this summer to enhance the experience for visitors.

A viewing platform is being built by their pond to augment their pond exploration program. Youth will be able to participate without damaging the shoreline. It also makes it fully accessible.

The foundation has partnered with the Bearspaw Elementary School to design the pond's interpretive signage.

Construction also begins soon on a four-season fully accessible classroom for their growing number of school field trips.

Duggan says this is a huge new addition to the park.

Educational programs continue to grow in the park but were stifled this spring by COVID-19. Duggan says it has been a challenging time for many, and you learn to adapt. This summer they have been able to accommodate a few small groups of children to participate in grasslands and pond programs.

"Those have been a huge hit, so hopefully we can offer a couple more."

The number of people frequenting the park has skyrocketed.

"For a while we were a bit of a hidden gem. People in Cochrane knew about us and northwest Calgary, but the word is certainly spreading because our numbers are up immensely, as is every park in Alberta, I'm sure, but there's been a huge increase in visitors to the park.

"There's a couple of times where I've come here for the afternoon and the cars are lined up all the way up the Glenbow Rd. and all the parking lots are full. It's great to see. That's what we're here for, for people to come and enjoy it."

Due to COVID-19, the visitor centre is closed but that hasn't discouraged people from visiting or volunteering.

"We have volunteers and stewards that come when they can and set up a tent and a booth by the parking lot to answer questions, take donations and sell some merchandise and to interact."

The park is free to visit and is open daily from sunrise to sunset.

To find out more about the park visit here.