The City of Red Deer will embark on a 10-year plan to boost the popularity of an underused recreational and equestrian area.
On Monday, city council unanimously endorsed Heritage Ranch 2009 Concept Plan, which will be used to guide future development on the 215-acre parcel immediately east of the Tourism Red Deer/Alberta Sports Hall of Fame centre along Hwy 2.
The plan looks at adding programs such as camping, upgrading the ranch’s visitor centre, using large gateway signs and other promotional features, improving vehicle and pedestrian access, and keeping the horseriding component.
The capital costs are estimated at $4.4 million, including $1.7 million for adding utilities to the visitor centre, the operator’s residence, and the Alberta Sports museum and Tourism Red Deer. Improvements to the centre and the utility servicing could begin in 2010.
The overall concept is designed to encourage more use by residents and out-of-town users.
“This is a beautiful area — and it’s underutilized,” said Councillor Tara Veer.
The plan follows a 2005 Special Gathering Places Study, which recommended phasing out the equestrian programs. A public uproar over losing the horses led to the new consultants’ report.
ISL Engineering and Land Services suggests expanding the equestrian programs so that medium-sized groups could hold functions that combine horseback or trail rides with meetings or social functions.
As part of the Heritage Ranch visitor centre renovations, the meeting room would be expanded so up to 80 people could be there instead of 50.
“When people wanted to hold a party or a meeting there, there were two constraints — the meeting room wasn’t big enough and there were pillars all in the middle of it,” said Mayor Morris Flewwelling.
The plan suggests getting rid of the columns, but not changing the upstairs lounge or the outside decks.
“I think you will have a much more functional building,” said Flewwelling.
Councillor Larry Pimm said the structural improvements are important, but cautioned against making the area too busy.
“Natural areas wear thin,” he said.
The plan also recommends minor upgrades to the operator’s residence, used by the person who cares for the horses and provide security.
It also suggests maintaining the lower lands for horse use, and maintaining trails for walking and cross-country skiing in that area.
Other recommendations include — designated area for outdoor education programs and/or group camp area; having a playground and bookable group picnic sites; and adding a scenic wooded gazebo and ornamental planting.
“Access to the park is awkward because you have to access it from a residential area or from the highway,” said Veer. “Those are two challenges we don’t necessarily have any control over changing, but (pedestrian and vehicle) access within the park is very awkward.”
Veer would like to see improved access to the lower lands, such as having regular wagon rides to the area.
“It’s a steep slope going down to there,” she said.
The plan suggests improving access from the Sports Hall of Fame and Tourism Red Deer. The operators of these are working on a study related to creating a road access from their parking lot and connecting it to Cronquist/Webster Drive.
Also recommended are larger signs, including an entrance feature located at the south entrance to the site and visible along both Webster and Cronquist Drives.
The feature will have a heritage theme and included a wood care and a windmill.
Other council news:
• Council gives first reading towards changing a land use bylaw concerning escarpment areas
• Council supports rezoning of land on 19th Street and 40th Avenue so that the city’s second off-leash dog park can go in
• Riverside Meadows Area Redevelopment Plan is supported
• Council endorses an updated market analysis of commercial needs prior to further planning of “town centre districts”
• Changes are made concerning appeals at a city committee level, and three committees are added to the Committees Bylaw