The opening of a new off-leash area and the dedication of the town's largest park in memory of Jim Uffelmann were two of the highlights of 2018 for local dog owners.
Possibly more good news will be coming after council determines what new off-leash areas could potentially be developed in existing neighborhoods.
In November, town council turned back the proposed criteria for potential locations to receive further clarification from the recreation and parks board, also new in 2018. Council is being cautious about what parameters are established for what could potentially be a sensitive issue in some neighbourhoods and has asked the committee to take a second look. They've also been asked to further examine at what parameters should be adapted for new residential areas.
"They’re very similar," explains town councillor Tara McFadden, who chairs the recreation and parks committee established mid-2018, "but when you’re putting in an off-leash area in a new neighbourhood you don’t need quite the same parameters. You have to be more careful when you try to retrofit them into an existing area."
"Council has given it back to the committee to have another eyeball at it and that will be part of our work plan early in the year."
It was the Off-Leash Advocacy Group (OLAG) who got the ball rolling on opening more off-leash areas for Cochrane's robust dog population. They considered the new Hwy. 22 park a start but maintain the town is a long way from meeting the needs of local dog owners.
In July, they presented council with a number of potential areas in existing neighbourhoods. The town's parks and open spaces department reviewed the suggestions and started to create the criteria in conjunction with the parks and recreation committee and took into account the views of 323 people who responded to a survey on Let's Talk Cochrane.
The new off-leash area was originally to be located further north along the highway corridor but was met by a storm of controversy by adjacent residents. The area developed is fenced on all sides, has a minimal amount of landscaping and an asphalt pathway runs its length. There's a dual gate staging area on the south end to help prepare dogs for entry and exit. There’s also a small-dog-only area just south across West Rock Road.
Clearly, Cochrane residents love their canines. As of Jan. 2, there were 4,770 licenced dogs in the community, a number that is higher than the people populations of 215 Alberta communities and is closing in on communities like Westlock, which has 5,101 people.
Jim Uffelmann Memorial Park
Only a few weeks earlier the popular and largest off-leash park along the Bow River was named in honour of one of its largest proponents.
Jim Uffelmann, who died tragically on Sept. 29, 2017 while volunteering for a trail clearing project in the Kananaskis Park area, was commonly called the "Mayor of the Dog Park." Upon its election, the new town council moved quickly to name the park in his honour.
The ceremony was well attended by Uffelmann's family and friends on June 16, 2018. His father Jim and other family members, including sisters Sarah and Maris, flew here from Ontario for the park's dedication. His beloved Wirehaired Pointing Griffon, Lulu, was front and centre in the care of Jim's partner Patricia McDonald.
Committee Offers New Voice for Residents
The year 2018 was also significant in providing residents a formal voice in the decision-making process on parks and open spaces, one that was surprisingly lacking previously.
McFadden received council’s approval for the new committee in late January and by March the call went out for members. The idea was enthusiastically embraced by the community and 16 people applied for the eight public positions available. The ninth position is held by McFadden.
The committee held its first meeting in June and promptly held its first delegation day that month to hear the needs and aspirations of a wide variety of local organizations. The committee has been meeting monthly since.
McFadden expects 2019 to be busy for the committee and they've put in place a work plan framework for 2019 that includes continual consultation with local organizations and providing input on future land-use for creation and parks, including the soon to be annexed land in the northwest corner of town. She’s pleased with how the creation of this committee will give the public a long-absent voice in decision-making.
“One of my goals has also been to expand meaningful public involvement in council decision-making so I’m really excited about this committee because parks, open space and recreation is really important to Cochrane and this will make sure residents have a meaningfully say in how we do it.”