The heat is on Canmore council yet again in the community over a proposed bike trail, this time in the Quarry Lake Park area.
Last year, council came under fire for a flow trail proposal along Benchlands Trail. This year, residents are up in arms over a mountain bike trail with technical features in a wooded area in Quarry Lake Park.
With bear 148 recently in that area and Fish and Wildlife officials from the province trapping her with a warning that if she returns she will be killed, there is added scrutiny in the community over how that area is used by humans.
Many question the appropriateness of developing a new mountain bike trail in that space, and that a public process for input was not undertaken.
Mayor John Borrowman said there was an approval process through the budget, an annual process held in public that the community was told about when the flow trail was being debated.
Borrowman added Quarry Lake Park, which is co-owned and managed with the Rocky Mountain Heritage Foundation, was created as a place for recreation.
“The park was purchased with the sole intent of meeting the recreational purposes of our community and that includes biking, hiking and swimming,” he said. “It is a cherished recreational facility in the community and there is an awful lot of mountain bikers in the community who are looking forward to a trail that will meet their needs.”
The issue Canmore has with human use and how it occurs in areas with wildlife – inside and outside of areas designated like wildlife corridors and habitat patches – set in motion the human use management review in 2013.
The entire process, which involved a dedicated group of stakeholders passionate about addressing the issue of human use in wildlife corridors, resulted in a series of recommendations.
Implementation of the plan has been ongoing since 2015, and includes projects like the voluntary fruit tree removal program and the off-leash loop trail at the Quarry Lake dog park.
The concept of the off-leash trail is exactly the same as the one being used to establish a mountain bike trail in that location. The intent is to reduce human use in a wildlife corridor – whether it is off-leash dogs and their owners or bikers.
“We know this use is already happening in the proposed area; the intent is that by designing an approved loop trail, we can concentrate the use there, thereby reducing dogs off-leash in other area,” wrote sustainability coordinator Lori Rissling Reid in a report on that project.
Mayor Borrowman reiterated that strategic goal from the human use management process when questioned about the appropriateness of the trail in that location.
“The whole point is to entice people out of the wildlife corridor,” he said.
General manager of municipal infrastructure Michael Fark recognized that in the land use bylaw non-motorized trails for the park are not a permitted use, however, it is a discretionary use and the area is zoned a natural park.
“By virtue of council approving the project, it is approved,” he explained. “No development permit or environmental impact statement is required. The requirements of the land use bylaw have been met and the project is entirely consistent with the land use bylaw.”
Fark reiterated several factors that have led to the proposed trail’s approval, including a need to remove human use from designated corridors and reduce user conflicts on trails that already exist. As well, the issue of illegal trails would be addressed in that area with the establishment of a formalized bike trial.
“The rationale behind the project all along is one of eliminating informal trails and formalizing trails with standards to improve the user experience, safety and ridability,” he said. “This was intended to create an amenity in an area that is approved for human use in order to discourage the amount of human use in wildlife corridors and habitat patches.”
Fark said to imply that hikers, dog walkers, and swimmers can use the park but mountain bikers cannot is inconsistent with the information the town has and, if the community feels strongly that human use in Quarry Lake Park should be restricted, then that would apply to everyone, not just mountain bikers.
“If we want to limit human use at Quarry Lake because it is a valued space for animals, then we would limit all human use,” he said.