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MD of Bighorn reviewing recreation, community support services master plan

“There’s been a fair amount of change in demographics, population and interest in the facilities and services the MD provides.”

MD OF BIGHORN – A master plan to identify priorities, inform policies, projects and initiatives in recreation and community supports for the MD of Bighorn is in the works.

It’s been 10 years since the last iteration of the MD of Bighorn’s recreation and community support services master plan and community services coordinator Doug Saul said it was time for a review.

“Since 2013, there’s obviously a decade-long gap, and it’s been a big decade for the MD in some regards with changes in Dead Man’s Flats and Exshaw, for instance,” said Saul.

“There’s been a fair amount of change in demographics, population and interest in the facilities and services the MD provides.”

The planning process, which began with Bighorn council approving the development of a master plan in 2022, examined community services and recreational offerings available to residents to determine how best to address programming and facility opportunities.

HarGroup Consulting was hired to assist the municipality with surveying residents, which wrapped up earlier this month after a series of four open houses were held across the MD.

Analyzing resident surveys revealed many similarities in behaviours, interests, and perceptions between residents residing in the Bow corridor area and those in the Ranchlands area of Bighorn.

For planning purposes, the municipality was divided into two parts. The Bow corridor includes Dead Man’s Flats, Exshaw, Harvie Heights and Lac Des Arcs, while ranchlands include the Benchlands, Ghost River, Jamieson Road, North Ranchlands, Richards Road and South Ranchlands.

Based on proximity, Bow corridor residents were found to be more likely to use facilities within their own communities, as well as in Canmore, whereas Ranchlands residents living in Waiporous, Water Valley, or Ghost Lake were more likely to use facilities in their own communities and in Rocky View County and Cochrane.

Saul said based on the findings it seems residents are aware of the balance between the facilities that would be used and realistic for their own communities, and the capacity for more extensive facilities.

“Cochrane and Canmore, for example, are places where one would access multiple indoor ice surfaces or swimming pools,” said Saul. “Whereas in the hamlets and regions within the MD, residents are asking to look at things like community gardens, temporary outdoor ice-skating surfaces, trails and pathways, or a gathering spot with picnic tables.”

Other popular suggestions included developing an outdoor disc golf course, playgrounds, off-leash dog parks, or tennis and pickleball courts.

To enhance program development, the master plan suggests the MD of Bighorn should actively promote and facilitate programming opportunities within communities, which could be achieved through the establishment of systems and supports, fostering collaboration with existing service providers, and providing funding opportunities. These recommendations stem from the findings that numerous residents in Bighorn expressed a preference for accessing many services in Canmore or Cochrane.

As such, programming opportunities are not likely to duplicate services already offered by providers in larger urban centres. However, there may be some programming opportunities that develop through local interests and initiatives.

Resident surveys showed great interest from both the Bow corridor and Ranchlands to develop recreation programs such as community parties or social events.

For community support programs, there was great interest from both areas for supports to help seniors remain in their homes as long as they can, and for discounts to public programs and services for lower income individuals and families.

Ranchlands residents also showed great interest in better access to a food bank or opportunities to provide low-cost, fresh produce for individuals and families in need, and for support for adolescents struggling with anxiety, stress, bullying, addiction or depression.

Saul said engagement from residents was high, with about 25 per cent of the overall population participating in surveys and open houses.

“I’m grateful to all the residents and organizations and stakeholders that have gotten involved in helping shape this plan,” he said. “My observations are that – percentage wise, per capita, the feedback was pretty evenly distributed across the MD.”

MD of Bighorn Reeve Lisa Rosvold said she was also pleased with the amount of participation, and while much of what residents are calling for was not a surprise, what was a surprise was the demand for trails and pathways across the region. 

“Outdoor recreation pursuits is a desire throughout the entire municipality and it stood out to the contractor that was working on this,” said Rosvold. “They said 85 per cent of Bighorn residents are looking for more hiking opportunities, versus 53 per cent, which would be the average from other Alberta communities.

“They said that's the highest they've seen in any other community where they've done a research project like this.”

On Tuesday (May 23), HarGroup gave a verbal presentation on findings to the MD’s governance and priorities committee.

The plan is expected to appear at a regular meeting of council at an upcoming date for further discussion and potential approval. Rosvold said she hopes to see it return within one of the next couple of meetings, and definitely before MD council breaks for the summer at the end of July.

“Council's excited to have these results come in so that we can start making some decisions for our future recreation and community services needs and start checking those boxes.”

The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada. The position covers Îyârhe (Stoney) Nakoda First Nation and Kananaskis Country.