Making the purchase of Canyon Ski and Recreation Area work will require deep pockets and an aggressive vision of the parks network in this region.
The City of Red Deer and Red Deer County have made a joint conditional offer to purchase the facility, which sits on the escarpment of Red Deer River northeast of the city. Due diligence on the offer will take about 90 days.
The proposed purchase price has not been divulged, but the asking price was $3.1 million when it was put on the market almost a year ago. And that is likely just the beginning of the expenses for the two municipalities.
In the current economic climate, and with a wishlist of recreational facilities piling up for rink-and-pool-starved Central Albertans, the timing of this deal would seem awkward at best.
But sometimes events force revisions to the best of plans. The city’s needs assessment study released last year set recreation and culture priorities over a 25-year period. It was compiled with the help of public surveys and meetings with stakeholders. It now includes the purchase of Canyon, at the recommendation of city staff.
One likely alternative — letting the land be developed for housing — was too unpalatable. It would mean the loss of a significant community resource that could never be restored or replaced.
The owners of Canyon — operators Karl and Lorraine Martinek and other shareholders — have long tried to run a year-round resort, offering trail rides and summer camps on the picturesque 240-acre property. They recognized the potential but couldn’t tap into it the way a well-funded municipality (or two) could.
So buying Canyon has much larger implications than just buying and operating a ski hill. The land possesses much more potential for Central Albertans seeking year-round outdoors activities. To make it viable long-term, multi-season, several things must happen:
• It should become the northeast destination in the Waskasoo Trail network, extending from Fort Normandeau in the southwest and winding through the county and city.
• The steep road to the lodge at the base of the hill should be restricted to staff use in the winter and a major parking lot should be built at the top of the hill.
• A new lodge at the top of the hill could double as a convention centre, restaurant, outdoor adventure venue, or for a variety of other uses. By locating it at the top of the hill, it would be much more accessible in all weather conditions.
• City development projects have created piles of unneeded earth. That dirt should be used to improve Canyon’s vertical drop, giving it the length needed to host major races.
• Mountain bike trails should be cut through the face of the hill and at least some of the chairlifts retrofitted to carry bikes in the summer.
• A boat launch should be built at the bottom of the escarpment, and the existing parking lot could be used in summer only to handle the growing crowd of people who wish to float down the river.
• The two municipalities involved should partner with school systems in the region and youth and community groups in order to get maximum use out of the facility seven days a week.
• The purchase of Canyon will require a thorough examination, and upgrade, to the complete ski lift system.
None of this is simple or cheap. But buying Canyon just to maintain it doesn’t make sense either.
Its potential must be tapped. The more than 170,000 people who are about to become part owners of the facility should expect no less.
John Stewart is the Advocate’s managing editor.