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Banff dog park to be probed for further contamination

“I know this has likely been frustrating for dog owners and I want to thank them for their patience.”
Banff Dog Park
An example of some of the broken glass found at the Banff off-leash dog park on Hawk Avenue. Submitted

BANFF – The Town of Banff will work like a dog to get the off-leash dog park reopened in Banff’s industrial compound.

Council has directed administration to probe the 1.5-acre off-leash dog park on Hawk Avenue with shovels for further signs of hazardous materials such as nails, glass and metal wire. If the contamination is isolated, the site would be excavated to get rid of the debris.

However, if the contamination is more widespread, administration will be back before council for direction on next steps for the site, part of which was a former dumping ground of Canadian Pacific Railway in the 1960s.

“I don’t want to delay in trying to find solutions. We saw how well used this site is,” said Mayor Corrie DiManno during council’s meeting on Monday (Sept. 11).

“I know this has likely been frustrating for dog owners and I want to thank them for their patience.”

The off-leash dog park was closed mid-June because glass, nails and other hazardous objects have continued to surface at the dog park and dog owners were concerned about the safety of their pets.

Councillors Grant Canning and Ted Christensen voted against spending $25,000 on the shovel test and potentially $80,000 on a shallow excavation now, preferring to have a conversation with Parks Canada on potential alternative locations for a dog park.

While that work will proceed shortly, Canning did get unanimous support to have administration start that conversation with the federal agency and return to council with proposed locations and budgets.

Canning said there are initial talks about future uses of the Hawk Avenue dog park site – such as Roam Transit expansion, operations compound uses or residential housing – so it makes sense to have a conversation with Parks Canada now.

“I really worry about putting a lot of money into this to remediate it and get it back to a better state, and then literally a year or two years from now something comes up that we’re thinking is going to be a better use of this space than a dog park,” he said.

“I don’t know what that looks like, but I think that’s coming.”

Town manager Kelly Gibson said administration could initiate a discussion with Parks Canada, but warned that a final decision would be a long way off.

“We won’t get a comprehensive decision from Parks until we have a site plan," he said.

The Hawk Avenue dog park was relocated in 2020 to make way for construction of the new Roam Transit building.

During early stages of creating the dog park, a small, isolated waste hole containing cans, bottles, hoses and cutlery was found. It was excavated by hand by a team of archaeologists with oversight from the Town of Banff and Parks Canada.

In addition, a third-party environmental site assessment and independent archaeological survey were completed, as well as 10 test pits around the exterior of the site, but no contamination was uncovered.

“We also had two shallow excavations and raking occur by a local area landscaper in hopes that would rectify the issue – and it has not,” said Amanda Arbuckle, recreation manager for the Town of Banff.

The Town sought legal advice before closing the dog park in mid-June and was advised to take reasonable steps to investigate and respond to the problem if the park is to remain open “as it has knowledge of potential harm to users of the facility.”

“It is advisable, we don’t reopen the dog park until we can determine if we can remove the issue at hand,” said Arbuckle.

That said, winter access to the dog park could happen once the ground is frozen and snow covers the surface.

“We would have to close it if there was a significant thaw or no more snow anywhere on the site,” said Arbuckle.

There are currently 525 licensed dogs in the Banff townsite. This does not account for visitors who are travelling with their with dogs and staying in hotels or surrounding campgrounds.

The Hawk Avenue dog park averages 48 visits per day and the off-leash area at the recreation grounds averages approximately 37.