Plan could make river a city park

A new park development plan that will unfold over the next 30 to 50 years suggests making the Red Deer River a municipal park.

A new park development plan that will unfold over the next 30 to 50 years suggests making the Red Deer River a municipal park.

The River Valley and Tributaries Park Concept Plan, adopted by city council on Monday, recommends exploring making the river a municipal park within city limits to recognize and protect it.

The report further suggests that creating this park wouldn’t entail acquiring any land, and that the provincial government would still maintain responsibility over natural resources within its territory.

Councillor Tara Veer said she liked the idea because it would give the city more leverage on what it might be able to enforce. The city receives a number of complaints regarding enforcement issues, but because there are various federal and provincial authorities overseeing the river’s management, it’s hard to enforce municipal bylaws on it.

Parks superintendent Trevor Poth said the city may be better able to manage what happens within the river area, through the use of its public and park facilities bylaw.

“It gives parks staff a little bit of nervousness because of the amount of area and the type of enforcement we’re talking about,” Poth said. “Any type of enforcement on the water is outside parks expertise, as is the management of waterways. We share that with Environmental Services.”

Parks, Recreation and Culture would have to work closely with the city’s Environmental Services Department

The park plan also recommends looking into designating the river as a Canadian Heritage River through a national conservation program, Canadian Heritage Rivers System. It promotes, protects and enhances Canada’s river heritage, and ensures that rivers are managed in a sustainable manner.

“The challenge is you can’t designate the river as a Heritage River in city boundaries,” said Poth. “You are working between many municipalities.”

The program isn’t accepting any new nominations while a nationwide review is underway.

Councillor Gail Parks wanted the municipal park and heritage river ideas to go forward to the Heritage Preservation committee, but council turned her request down.

“I am not sure that I know what a municipal park designated around a river looks like,” said Parks. “It’s one of the reasons I wanted it explored, so we would have some idea of what’s out there in municipalities.”

The park plan makes a total of 21 recommendations, including using municipal reserves and/or land purchases to create buffers along streams. It also suggests aggressively pursuing provincial and federal dollars.

Both the city and Red Deer County created the plan, with the purpose of identifying lands best suited for potential trails and parks within Red Deer’s growth area.

“We have finally acknowledged natural waterways, natural drainage systems in the region and identified them as resources to be protected,” said Councillor Cindy Jefferies. “And they’d also connect with our Waskasoo Park system that currently exists. I think it will provide a good connection for our new neighbourhoods.”

As part of growth, the city would extend Waskasoo Park, which already includes 2,300 acres of parkland, 95 km of trails, plus sports fields, recreation facilities, cultural and nature centres.

The plan suggests adding more than 7,135 acres of parkland and 358 km of trails. Also being considered is nearly 1,900 acres of Special Study Area.

It also suggests having 13 park nodes, which are larger gathering areas such as Red Deer’s Bower Ponds. Eight of those would run more than 99 acres each in size. Some of those nodes would occur along the Red Deer River, while others would feature natural areas and passive recreation opportunities.