CANMORE – After several trespassing incidents, the private lands owned by Three Sisters Mountain Village saw new signs and a security guard added in late July in an effort to reduce people using the private property.
The decision was made after a growing number of concerns were identified such as a mine-shaft being entered, a creek being dammed, off-leash dog walking, trees being destroyed and a bear finding an abandoned cooler packed with food as well as numerous campsites having to be removed this summer.
“Nobody in Three Sisters really objected too much in previous years because most people would just walk across it,” said Chris Ollenberger, the director of strategy and development with Three Sisters Mountain Village. “The last year, we’ve really seen an increase in the number of people that are using it.”
While it’s hard to quantify the reason for the increase in people using the private property, the new Kananaskis Conservation Pass, the growing popularity of Quarry Lake and paid parking in certain areas have led to people attempting to find free and less used areas.
“Many people admitted they were trying to avoid Quarry Lake and avoid busier areas,” Ollenberger said. “After we started educating people and telling them there are different trails, the pond isn’t for swimming, we have a seen a drop. … Hopefully with education, improving the signage and mapping, people will use legitimately public lands, which Three Sisters private property is not.”
The decision is part of growing derision between the owner of the lands and many residents in town.
The potential for development has been ongoing for nearly 30 years, but the past nine months have seen the process reach a new level of public engagement as Canmore council voted on proposals for the land.
The lengthy public hearing process had hundreds of letters and speakers voice opposition to the proposed development.
Canmore council voted down the Smith Creek area structure plan at second reading, while the Three Sisters Village ASP was defeated at third reading.
TSMV has since received judicial review for both rejected ASPs and filed separate appeals with the Land and Property Rights Tribunal. Under Section 619 of the Municipal Government Act, the appeals are required to be heard within 60 days of filing and a decision announced 30 days after its completion.
The timeframe means the appeal hearings will begin this fall and decide whether or not the originally proposed ASPs move forward.
Ollenberger noted the two ASPs included several hectares of open space for use by the public, including turning one of the ponds into public use of kayaking, swimming and skating in the winter which would need significant work before it’s safe for public use.
“There’s quite a lot that goes into designing public spaces to ensure they’re safe for people to use and the private lands of Three Sisters are not included on that list,” he said. "Because of the abuse of what we’ve been seeing there and it was ramping up, unfortunately this is where we’re at.”
The new additions of signage and security were added July 30 after numerous incidents and complaints. Ollenberger said there was also a growing concern for the liability and the potential of someone being hurt on the private property.
He said they’ve been in-touch with the RCMP, Canmore Fire-Rescue and Alberta Parks and Environment with the ongoing safety concerns.
Photos provided to the Outlook show a portion of the creek dammed 50 to 100 metres from the debris pond, with tree trunks hammered into the ground. Other situations saw Canmore Fire-Rescue called out after an abandoned mine was entered, which has since been sealed and welded shut.
Barbecues and coolers have also been left, which have seen bears and other animals enter the site.
“It’s a tough situation, so we’re making sure people are aware it’s private land and we are redirecting them to public trails,” Ollenberger said. “We’re not doing it everywhere at the moment, but we are going to expand it because there’s plenty of public park space and there’s plenty of public trails for people to use.”
The Loki and Guy Lafleur Trails – which are run by Canmore and Area Mountain Biking Association – that are on the TSMV property remain open to the public.
According to the CAMBA website, the two organizations signed a memorandum of understanding in 2018 to “support the development, construction and maintenance of mountain bike trails on TSMV property.”
Ollenberger said the first weekend saw more than 500 people turned away, while the second weekend had about 300 people redirected to other lands.
“Three Sisters supports responsible proper use of trails that are made available to the public. But we can’t support unsanctioned illegal dangerous use of our land and we’re going to have to act accordingly to make sure that our property rights are maintained and people can enjoy themselves in Canmore safely."