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Work on new Banff horse trail pushed back

“We have such a fixed footprint in Banff and we have to share what we have together with the different user groups you see at the Catherine Robb Whyte building, the Fenlands, the Rec grounds, Bear Street, Banff Ave pedestrian zone, we have to share space here. The more I sit and think about this, I think the shared scenario – if we can enhance it – is the way to go.”

BANFF – An unexpected cost will see a new trail for horse riders wait for at least one more year and give more time to see if a temporary shared trail near Cave Avenue worked this year.

Banff council voted to defer the construction of a horse trail near the Banff Recreation Grounds until 2023 service review to further work with Banff Trail Riders – the operator – and engage the public on the temporary shared trail.

The project was scheduled for the spring – with an approved cost of $182,000 – but pushed back to the fall due to the high level of moisture in the ground and the shallow water table.

A temporary shared trail was established with it available to only horses from 8-10 a.m. and 4-7 p.m. daily. However, learning that horses only need the trail for five minutes in each of those timeframes had council questioning the likelihood of a horse dedicated trail.

“I’ve done a complete 180 on this. I was originally very passionate about ensuring if we were displacing the user group, we were providing a new space for them. The cost continues to go up and up to be able to do that, but in the meantime, we’ve created an interim solution that seems to be working just fine,” said Banff Mayor Corrie DiManno.

“It seems it’s working quite well and that they don’t use it quite often if it’s only 10 minutes a day from May to October. It begins to make me question why we need a sidewalk, a trail for pedestrians and cyclists and another trail for horses. We have three pathways align together and frankly, it begins to look a little silly.”

An impact assessment found 1,680 square metres of intact wetland would be lost and 5,600 square metres of habitat around the trail would be fragmented.

Parks Canada requires the Town to offset the habitat loss and reclaim the same amount of space elsewhere, with a wetland pond north of the horse trail and east of the sports field be built in 2023 for between $85,000 and $125,000 to potentially push the project above $300,000.

“I’m struggling for the need of the trail itself. I say that because we hear it’s used for five minutes in the morning and five minutes at the end of day,” Coun. Chip Olver said. “For 10 minutes of use, it’s $287,000 to $307,000. That seems like a lot of money when the shared use seems to have been going well this year.”

Alison Gerrits, the Town’s director of community services, said Town staff intended the shared path to be interim.

The hours for horses only were selected after conversations with the Town’s legal representation on liability and a wider timeframe was picked. Having gone through a season, the Town could work with Banff Trail Riders to shorten the window for horses only on the trail, she said.

She noted if work moved forward this year it wouldn’t have any impact on the budget. She said the timing was crucial for a decision due to council likely not meeting before work was to begin.

“The temporary shared trail scenario we’ve implemented for this season due to the weather and the ground situation that prevented us from beginning construction earlier in the season appears to be working,” Gerrits said.

The report noted there had been no formal complaints and the trail has been kept clean of horse manure.

Both Gerrits and Kelly Gibson, the Town manager, said they were informed of an alleged incident but they had been unable to confirm the extent of what took place despite multiple attempts.

A door hanger campaign to notify roughly 200 residents had two people reach out. Town staff have also been on-site to monitor and observe, which has allowed public engagement with users of the trail.

From June 28 and July 26, Gerrits said there have been eight conversations with residents on site and two employers from Banff Trail Riders.

The trail – which was approved in July 2019 for $182,000 – would be at the Banff Recreation Grounds between Sundance Road and Birch Avenue if it proceeds. It was part of the Recreation Grounds Master Plan and came from a recommendation in the 2015 Recreation Grounds Redevelopment Plan.

The intention was to reroute horses away from the recreation grounds since more use was taking place and the new Nancy Pauw pedestrian bridge will bring more people to the area when it’s finished.

Coun. Grant Canning added one reason was many user groups didn’t feel comfortable around horses, particularly with many passing through at the same time.

“With the new bridge about to open, there could very well be more people in that area. The horses are very well trained, but it’s more of a comfort level,” he said. “I think the intent was to create a segregated type of environment and I think going down this road [of the temporary shared path] will continue that and I think it makes a lot of sense.”

With options to potentially improve the temporary shared path, DiManno said it’s important to share as much space as possible in Banff, particularly with its limited land.

“We have such a fixed footprint in Banff and we have to share what we have together with the different user groups you see at the Catherine Robb Whyte building, the Fenlands, the Rec grounds, Bear Street, Banff Ave pedestrian zone, we have to share space here,” DiManno said. “The more I sit and think about this, I think the shared scenario – if we can enhance it – is the way to go.”