Anyone who gets past a fence that seals off a dangerous fallen portion of the trail around the Gaetz Lakes Sanctuary can now be charged with trespassing. (Contributing photo.)

Anyone who gets past a fence that seals off a dangerous fallen portion of the trail around the Gaetz Lakes Sanctuary can now be charged with trespassing. (Contributing photo.)

Trespassers, vandals strain resources at Red Deer’s Gaetz Lakes Sanctuary

On the brighter side, a Motus wildlife tracking tower will be installed

The danger of potentially falling 70 feet into a wooded ravine isn’t stopping some people from skirting barricades and entering an unstable portion of trail at the Gaetz Lakes Sanctuary.

Fed up with Red Deerians who are climbing or kicking over fences meant to keep the public out for their own safety, sanctuary staff have now erected ‘No Trespassing’ signs.

This means anyone caught inside this no-go area can be charged by peace officers, said Todd Nivens, executive-director of the of the Waskasoo Environmental Education Society.

About 200-metres of the Wishart Trail is off limits because part of the pathway slumped into a ravine in June. Nivens explained the problem lies with underlying geology, as well as excessive rain.

The City of Red Deer ordered a geotechnical report on the slope’s stability, but the study hasn’t yet been completed, said Nivens — so there’s no way of knowing if more escarpment will fall away.

Trespassers “could fall 20 feet to hit an exposed concrete pipe, and then fall another 50 feet down into the forest below,” added Nivens, who hopes the signs will be a deterrent.

The rest of the four-km Wishart Trail remains open, including the bridge, the stairs, and all viewing platforms. Nivens said rather than being able to go fully around, hikers will instead have to turn around at some point. “It’s just an out and back trail now.”

The geotechnical report will recommend options for trail remediation. Some underground support systems might be needed, said Nivens, who noted this portion of trial will be closed for the foreseeable future.

Staff at the Gaetz Lake Sanctuary dealt with plenty of other rule-breaking this year. Repeat incidents of vandalism have been “extremely challenging” in 2022, requiring thousands of hours of staff and volunteer time, said Nivens.

In February, a viewing telescope at the bird blind was lifted off its mount and thrown onto the frozen lake, shattering its lenses. Although the young vandal was charged by police, the Gaetz Lakes Sanctuary has so far been unable to replace the $6,000 item.

Three fires were also deliberately set in the sanctuary so far this year. Nivens said “unprescribed fires,” or those that are not planned to reduce non-native plants are “absolutely a concern… Anytime we see smoke or a hint of fire, we mobilize.”

And workers have been busy repeatedly wiring together cut perimeter fencing, as well as sanding and scraping graffiti off multiple wooden features along the trails.

“There’s nothing artistic about this,” said Nivens, referring to wide-scale damage caused when somebody spray painted a viewing platform, parts of the trail, some trees and the bridge earlier this summer. “To have to pay a whole crew to clean up something that is so senseless and serves no purpose,” he added, calling it a frustrating waste of taxpayer resources.

In more positive news: A location at the Gaetz Lakes Sanctuary is being sought for a Motus wildlife tracking tower, which can follow the migrations of tagged birds and mammals for scientific research. Nivens said a benefactor agreed to pay for the tower’s installation, once a site is selected.

This information will be a big boon for scientists trying to determine how certain environmental factors are driving animal behavior, he added.

And hundreds of goats are returning to the sanctuary in mid-October to continue their weed control efforts of non-native invasive species.



lmichelin@reddeeradvocate.com

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