Awash with problems on the river

Red Deer River sailors looking to use Fort Normandeau as their launching spot for a lazy day of floating are being warned to stick to the rules.

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Red Deer River sailors looking to use Fort Normandeau as their launching spot for a lazy day of floating are being warned to stick to the rules.

Unfortunately, the fort on the site of the original Red Deer River crossing has become too popular over the years. Sun-seeking river lovers have come armed with anything that floats and created parking mayhem and strained relations with nearby property owners.

City of Red Deer parks staff said on Wednesday that they plan to get tough with those breaking the rules this summer.

A primary target will be rafters who leave their vehicles outside the park at the side of the access road. It has not been uncommon to see dozens of vehicles parked alongside the narrow road, which is also the route for Border Paving’s trucks.

Turning the heavily used road into an impromptu parking lot has created a dangerous situation and Red Deer County is posting no parking signs to keep motorists away.

“We’ll be doing some towing. Not just us but (Red Deer County) will be as well. The county patrollers will be out here regularly,” said Jim Robertson, manager of Waskasoo Park Interpretive Programs. The fort only has 30 paved parking spots and another 30 vehicles can be squeezed in on the grass in a pinch. But on a good day, there can be 200 vehicle loads of people trying to find a spot.

Another 135 parking spots have been proposed next to Fort Normandeau, but that project is on hold because of ongoing consultation with area residents. The county was planning to lease about seven acres of reserve land to the city to create the gravel overflow lot.

Besides the danger of mixing paving trucks and unloading motorists, area residents have also complained about the problems created by sometimes rowdy river users. There have been cases of drunken river users using ditches as bathrooms, throwing up on residents’ property or getting in their vehicles and driving home.

“The neighbours are getting really frustrated,” said Todd Nivens, Waskasoo Park Interpretive Program co-ordinator, noting it is against the law to drink alcohol on any navigable waterway in Alberta.

This summer, the park gate will be closed at dusk. Any rafters who get back after dark will have to leave their vehicle until the next day.

A commissionaire will be duty to keep an eye on the situation and when the parking lot is full, to suggest other places for rafters to launch their inner tubes or dinghies.

Other good launching spots are Great Chief Park, River Bend, McKenzie Trails, and the Great West Adventure Park, where the BMX track is located.

Nivens encourages river users to take safety precautions. “A personal flotation device is an absolutely recommended minimum.”

The message is also being sent that the river should be treated with respect. In the last four or five years, there has been a huge increase in the amount of garbage thrown into the river.

Nivens said he’s not trying to dissuade people from using the river.

“The river is fantastic. When people are out there, people get a view of plants and animals, and quite honestly the city, they don’t normally get to see.”

But he wants people take a “no-trace philosophy” and leave nothing behind when they have spent their day on the river.

To showcase the beauty of the river, the city has purchased a pair of Zodiac-style boats and will be launching selective Thursday night and Saturday tours in July that will run through the summer. The schedule and rates are still being finalized. For information, call 403-346-2210.

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com

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