Canmore leashes its proposed dog park changes

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The Town of Canmore’s publicly presented plans for the Quarry Lake off-leash dog park may have had a bark worse than its actual bite.

After proposing a 2018 capital project valued at $110,000 to fence the popular off-leash recreational area, administration is now showing restraint when it comes to how the project would actually be approved and completed.

Chief administrative officer Lisa de Soto provided a clarification at the Nov. 21 council meeting, saying at this point in time the final details of what would actually happen in terms of long-term management of the dog park area is unclear.

“We brought this forward at the last finance committee meeting and it has led to a bunch of confusion and miscommunication in the community and I want to try and clarify the status of that project,” de Soto said.

The capital project was presented to council at its finance committee meeting on Nov. 10 and at the time administration indicated if the overall budget were to be approved, the project would be a done deal and proposed changes committed to.

But de Soto said a decision at budget would be premature, as there are two important processes underway that would provide needed context to council before it makes a decision on how to move forward into the future with the park and a popular off-leash loop trail.

“Residents and users of the dog park are still permitted to use the trail to the pond,” de Soto said.

The Town of Canmore has recently spearheaded a multi-jurisdictional working group to address human-wildlife coexistence in the Bow Valley in partnership with representatives from the province and Parks Canada.

The group has met twice so far and adopted a terms of reference document to guide the work, which came about after a summer dominated by debate over how humans and wildlife interact in this valley.

Mayor John Borrowman said the work being undertaken by the group is closely related to decisions about how to manage the overall Quarry recreation area.

“This is exactly the sort of issue the technical working group that includes government agencies would be addressing,” Borrowman said. “Our hope is coming out of that next spring would be recommendations and suggestions from that working group for all levels of government to be implemented.”

The Quarry Lake recreation area in particular was a hotspot for wildlife and human activity throughout the summer of 2017, leading to many conversations and questions over strategies being used to manage the area between various government agencies. The capture and relocation of bear 148 by Alberta Parks after she successfully was managed by Parks Canada on the landscape was a lightning rod with respect to the community conversation.

While the Town of Canmore manages the overall Quarry Lake area, including the off-leash park, Alberta Parks makes the call when it comes to wildlife closures, as the Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Park overlaps the municipal boundary in that area.

Town managers look to provincial wildlife managers for the direction of whether to close the entire area, or parts of it, to the public, and for how long.

Canmore council also commissioned a report in 2014 with recommendations called the Human Use Management Review – led by environmental planner Lori Rissling Wynn.

In 2017, the Town of Canmore began a pilot project to create an off-leash one-kilometre trail from the off-leash park to a nearby pond area. The trail trial was intended to offer dog owners a space to walk their pets off-leash that had access to water.

The reasoning for the pilot project, as well as for recently approved new off-leash dog parks in the Hubman Landing and Palliser areas, was taken from the human use management review.

The review recommends initiatives to get dog owners to change their behaviour – in other words, to keep off-leash dogs and their corresponding human use out of protected wildlife corridor areas. While there are limited permitted uses and designated trails inside provincially designated wildlife corridors, generally speaking human use is not allowed within them.

A remote camera study of the corridor system that surrounds Canmore by Alberta Environment and Parks has found that 94 per cent of the use inside corridors is human and many of those instances include off-leash dogs.

But Rissling Wynn has not yet reported back to council on the results of the trial of the loop trail, partly due to the fact it was closed for part of the summer season due to wildlife being in the area.

There has also been debate about how rules for dogs in the overall Quarry Lake area are being enforced by the municipality, with some discussion around hiring more staff in the department.

For de Soto, with two processes underway looking at what the overall area, means a final decision on the Quarry Lake off-leash dog park area is not yet ready to be made.

“We do believe that work would influence any decision on this fence,” she said. “We did get ahead of ourselves. The intent of the budget amendment is a placeholder for conclusion of the review.”

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