Nine recommendations have resulted from an environmental study on the popular Jim Uffelmann Memorial Park along the Bow River.
Last night, Trish Kluane, manager of Parks and Open Spaces. provided town council with an overview of the findings and proposed measures. most of which will be discussed during the 2025 budget deliberations.
Conducted by Environmental Design Solutions (EDS) Inc., the study examined the environmental health of the park based upon current recreational uses, environment sensitivities and geotechnical assessments.
Cochrane's passionate for the Bow River park was clearly illustrated by how over 1,150 people responded to a public survey conducted from Apr. 20 to May 22, 2023. There was also an internal stakeholder session, external workshop, pop-up information sessions included in the robust public engagement.
Of those responding, 69 per cent said they use the park for off-leash dog walking, followed 11 percent for leisure walking, third cycling, fourth nature appreciation and fifth leisure running and jogging.
The majority of users feel safe while in the park but 40 per cent believed posting park etiquette would be extremely valuable. Thirty-six per cent believe it would be beneficial to separate recreational use, 29 per cent would like to see improved lighting and 22 per cent believes an increase presence of bylaw officers wouldn't hurt.
Forty-one per cent of respondents said they have witnessed conflict and 59 per cent hadn't.
Kluane said they had a broad cross section of age groups responding, with 51 per cent of them ages 35 to 54.
Twenty-eight per cent said they are in the park three or more times per week, closely followed by 26 per cent who use it daily. Eighty per cent view it as a destination as opposed to a means to reaching elsewhere.
Clearly, the number one concern expressed by the public and town councillors was addressing bank erosion. The report indicates the town needs to complete mitigation along 7,200 metres of the riverfront. Based upon the current industry standard, the cost to complete the work is estimated to start at approximately $175,000.
Councillor Tara McFadden, who walks her dog there regularly and calls it one of her happy places in Cochrane, says taking action sooner than later is crucial.
"If you go through there, you know that site is over loved," said McFadden. "It needs vegetation, the grass is burnt off both this park and at the one on the highway. You can see the erosion on the banks, and I've had that flag to me recently that we are going to have to get a handle on that because if it gets to the level where the (federal) department of Fisheries and Oceans is concerned, we could be very restricted in what we're doing with that, so it's very important to the people of Cochrane that we come up with this."
Kluane says the erosion is largely caused by fluctuating river levels and overland drainage.
"The dogs are not solely causing it, but with the erosion happening, people and dogs going up and down the bank do add to the issue."
Some other recommendations received a lukewarm response, particularly the proposal to install dark-sky compliant lighting along the 1.5 km pathway at an estimated cost of $450,000.
Mayor Jeff Genung preferred taking measures that would help preserve the park's current natural state.
"My opinion is not changing it so we can accommodate more growth or change," said Mayor Genung. "It's how can we keep it the way it is and then accommodate that growth in other areas and keep this jewel the way it was, and why I think so loved."
Councillor Alex Reed said more dog parks are required for Cochrane and believes it was a mistake to not include one in the Greystone community.
He viewed the area to the north of the park as an unexplored resource, especially in light of the pressure on its pathway to the south.
The status of the large island north of the Jack Tennant Memorial was raised by Councillor Patrick Wilson.
Stacey Loe, executive director of Community Services, explained the area has been left natural and would require a significant investment to utilize.
"But it's definitely something that's been top of mind over the last year or so since we've started to reinvigorate Community Services, and I would imagine it would be something that will come up as part of those studies that we've been talking about the water course strategy as well as the riverfront strategy,"
Updates on those projects will be brought to council in March.
While the report focused addressing the needs of all current park users, Councillor Morgan Nagel believes council needs to discuss whether or not cyclists should be banned from the pathway when other routes become available through Greystone.
"At some point, I really think we should have a serious conversation about not allowing cyclists to use the whole area. The numbers that I felt really reinforced that was the study, it was so heavily lopsided towards dogs. I have personally witnessed dogs being run over by cyclists on numerous occasions which at some point is going to lead to a fistfight between people."
While major work will depend upon the results of 2025 budget deliberations, interpretative and etiquette signage are in the cards for 2024.
The findings of the environment assessment are:
Finding #1: As a whole the Town requires more off-leash dog spaces.
Site Recommendation: Maintain Jim Uffelmann Memoiral Park as an off-leash space until further studies can be conducted.
Finding #2: People value having access to the trails along the Bow River for various reactional activities.
Site Recommendation: Maintain the park as a multi-use space where various recreational users can access the trail system.
Finding #3: There is evidence of environmental degradation throughout the site requiring attention.
Site Recommendation: Erosion mitigation strategies should be implemented within the park.
Finding #4: Spring thaw leads to puddling water along the pathway and throughout the park.
Site Recommendation: Mitigation strategies should be implemented within the park to improve these puddling conditions.
Finding #5: Winter maintenance along the trail could be improved - specifically on ensuring the pathway does not become icy.
Site Recommendation: Changes to the park maintenance practices should be considered to ensure the trails are considered accessible year-round.
Finding #6: There is a lack of lighting along the pathways through the park, making off-peak usage challenging.
Site Recommendation: Lighting along the trail could be improved to increase off-peak usage, especially morning and evenings during the wintertime.
Finding #7: Dogs access the Bow River for the entire length of the Park - even the steep slopes towards River Ave.
Site Recommendation: Ensure access to the Bow River is maintained for off-leash dogs.
Finding #8: People access the Bow River from the east end of the park under the Jack Tennant Memorial Bridge
Site Recommendation: Ensure access to the Bow River is maintained in this location in particular.
Finding #9: Surface water is causing erosion within the park.
Site Recommendation: Re-grade upland areas of the park where surface water flow is concentrated to disperse the flowing water to "sheet flow."