BANFF – Two Banff town councillors are bucking at the idea of taxpayers picking up a $265,000 bill for a new horse trail to be used exclusively by Banff Trail Riders.
At a recent November meeting, council voted 5-2 to build a new 2.2-metre wide trail that parallels the Cave and Basin trail between Birch Avenue and Sundance Road to accommodate horses taken to and from the stables to the Fairmont Banff Springs.
The trail historically used by the company had to be moved given council’s direction in 2015 that horses were no longer permitted as part of the redevelopment of the recreation grounds to avoid potential conflicts between users.
Councillors Peter Poole and Ted Christensen want the Town to negotiate with Banff Trail Riders on a reasonable fee agreement for the use of public lands amid concerns of supporting something for the benefit of one commercial user.
“We do that in the way we manage our restaurants, and their café tables. It’s time we do it for horses on the horse trails,” said Coun. Poole.
“This would be a privatization in effect of public lands, and I think in exchange for privatization of public lands, there must be a proper public lands discussions,” he added.
“Were it to be my own restaurant on Bear Street, it would be wrong for the Town to support something just for my benefit.”
Banff Trail Riders, the commercial horseback trail riding business, presently uses the gravel trail on the north end of the recreation grounds to move horses each day of their summer operation from the Sundance Road barns to the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel corrals.
The movement of horses is required for trail ride tours that operate out of the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel area.
Julie Canning, one of the owners of Banff Trail Riders, said horseback riding is a historic use in Banff National Park, noting it is a permitted and allowed on certain trails within the park.
She said there is no additional fee paid to Parks Canada other than the business licence, the same as within the Town of Banff.
“Just like riding a bike … riding a bike, riding a horse – same, same,” she said.
Most councillors said the trail needs to be built on the Town’s dime because it was council that made the decisions surrounding the recreation grounds redevelopment that removed the trail from its original location.
“If we made a change that meant you could no longer enter the front door of your restaurant we would have to do something to allow that business to have access,” said Coun. Chip Olver. “This is our change, so I think it’s on us to take care of.”
During public consultation and the development of the recreation grounds plan in 2015, the need for a dedicated horse trail outside of public use spaces was identified in response to the potential for site user conflicts.
The $83,000 cost of that trail was tied to an assumption it would run through an area where an existing, informal trail had been used for decades, but following discussions with Parks Canada, it was determined the trail had to be moved further away from a creek.
As a result, another $182,000 is needed to relocate the dedicated trail between Sundance Road and Birch Avenue for a total $265,000. It will be discussed during service review and budget.
The other less expensive option was widening the Cave and Basin trail to three metres, and closing the trail 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. and from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. each day in summer, to accommodate the horses. Alternatively, the trail could remain open to all users with signage improvements to indicate right of ways.
But Coun. Olver said she supported a dedicated trail over the option over widening the Cave and Basin trail for safety reasons.
“One of the reasons I like this option is the separation of the users, so we don’t have people, bikes, skateboards and burleys trying to use the trail at the same time as the horses,” she said.