Popular Exshaw trail closed
Thursday, Apr 11, 2013 06:00 am
Public safety has been cited as the reason for a recent closure of a popular, century-old trail that runs along the west side of Exshaw Creek.
The Lafarge cement plant at Exshaw closed the Exshaw Creek trail April 1 by extending the berm that runs along the west side of the creek. The berm now ends just north of the Knowlerville Bridge, blocking the former trailhead.
Lafarge representative Michelle Gurney said Tuesday (April 9) the trail runs on the plant’s lease land beneath the east ridge of the quarry, where blasting is now occurring.
“There’s a major public safety risk in that area. As part of our reclamation plan we’re doing work on the ridge on that east side and with that, we’ve seen rocks come down,” she said.
“That is Lafarge property, but people have used (the trail) for a long time and we’ve always let that happen, but there is a public safety risk and there is no way we’d compromise public safety in that area.”
Jessie Sanderson, president of the Exshaw Community Association, said Tuesday (April 9) the trail has indeed been a focal point for Exshaw’s residents and visitors.
“We hiked up there all the time with our kids. It’s a nice place for us to go and have a really nice hiking path,” Sanderson said. “It’s absolutely frustrating that they are closing the trail. Underlining that for me, the biggest concern, (the quarry) is too uncomfortably close to town where they are doing the blasting. To me, it is unnerving just how close of a proximity that is to where residents live.
“The issue is they closed the berm and we’re all upset about the trail, but it ties into that we’re all used to having a bit of a distance from them. We live with the dust, we live with everything that comes with living in an industrial town, but the closer they get to us the more it is going to affect our quality of life.”
Even though the community knew the closure was coming, MD of Bighorn Reeve Dene Cooper said residents are reacting to losing a community trail that was “highly prized” and “highly valued” in the community.
“It is a grieving process,” he said. “They are grieving the loss of something they cherished. You can’t have much of a discussion when you are still reacting from grief. It’s going to take time and we’ve got time, but there’s no instant fix on this one. Something they loved has been lost.
“Is it on Lafarge lease? Yes it is. Is it next to an active quarry? Yes it is.”
Cooper added with the change in quarry operations, that region has become unsafe.
The MD, Cooper said, is working with residents on trails in and around the hamlet, looking at ways to enhance recreational opportunities.
At its April 9 meeting, for example, council approved construction of a mountain bike pump track on the south end of the berm trail on a piece of unused municipal land.
“We’re going to work really hard to get something new in other places in the community, not necessarily anywhere in particular, and we will re-establish these possibilities,” he said.
A proposal Lafarge brought to council last month to relocate the bridge and help construct new trails was not acted upon, Cooper said, not because it was refused, but rather council felt it needed time to better understand trail use and needs throughout the hamlet and its immediate vicinity.
In the meantime, he said, it is possible to travel north along Exshaw Creek following its east side. However, unlike the west side, which followed an old road, the east side of the creek is not a convenient route for families.
“You could walk several abreast on a really formed trail (on the west side). When you get to the east side of the creek, I wouldn’t call it bush whacking, but it isn’t prepared,” he said.
Before a formal trail could be constructed on the east side of the creek, Cooper said access would first have to be resolved.
A trail would have to cross MD land alongside the water treatment plant, Lafarge lease land and land that is managed by Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, all of which would require formal permission and agreements.
Even though the Exshaw Creek trail is now closed, the trail along the south berm remains open.
Gurney said Lafarge had initially planned to close that trail as well, but chose instead to leave it open.
“We want to make sure the trail is easier to access than it is right now. Some of the rock is a little farther down than we’d like to see,” she said adding, Lafarge plans on widening the path as it rises up to the south berm trail and the landing that sits in front of the bridge.
“So even if someone was riding a mountain bike they could still get down a berm on that side and still access the bridge,” Gurney said.
Cooper said keeping the south trail open is a positive move.
“This is Lafarge extending some goodwill,” he said.
With the south trail still open, residents can still access the school and library by crossing the Knowlerville Bridge. Visitors, as well, can still park in the lot by the recycling depot and walk up the trail, cross the bridge and head up the creek on the east bank.