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Open space and trails plan updated to accommodate dog parks

“We may get some pushback from the community in some areas, but also recognizing Canmore seems to have a lot of dogs and people have to have places to run their dogs in a protected way so people aren’t running their dogs off-leash in corridors or other environmentally sensitive lands."
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Jenn Stielow plays fetch with her dog Copper at the Quarry Lake off-leash dog park in Canmore on Tuesday (Aug. 24). EVAN BUHLER RMO PHOTO

CANMORE – An update to the open space and trails plan will make it possible to propose new off-leash dog parks in Canmore.

Council has unanimously approved allowing off-leash dog parks to be created a minimum of 20 metres from residential and commercial properties as opposed to the previous 120-metre restriction.

The minimum size for dog runs can now be up to 0.4 hectares, neighbourhood parks between 0.4 and one-hectare and destination parks at one-hectare or more.

“We may get some pushback from the community in some areas, but also recognizing Canmore seems to have a lot of dogs and people have to have places to run their dogs in a protected way so people aren’t running their dogs off-leash in corridors or other environmentally sensitive lands,” Mayor John Borrowman said.

“Certainly a very critical part of living in Canmore is we respect the intent of those protected lands. If we don’t provide dog parks for people to use, then it makes it difficult for dog owners.”

The off-leash dog parks aim to reduce the potential of interaction between humans and wildlife, and dissuade people from using wildlife corridors to walk their dogs.

The Town has five dog parks, and since the open space and trails plan was created, three dog parks have been built.

Under the previous framework of the policy necessitating the 120m restriction was met, it would have been impossible to see new dog parks created without a new development and working them into the master plan.

“It would take a big development to reach that kind of restriction. … It’s kind of a catch-22,” Coun. Esme Comfort said.

Joshua Welsh, a development planner for the Town, noted the last census data showed there were more dogs than children in Canmore, highlighting the popularity of four-legged friends in town.

He said there are no immediate plans for a new dog park, but “it is true that dog parks are one of the most widely used public parks we have.”

In 2017, the off-leash dog parks at Hubman Landing and Palliser Trail were approved and a subsequent review of the policy led to a minimum size guideline of 0.5 hectares needed for such parks.

A Spring Creek dog park was voted down by council in 2017 after funding was available for only two parks – leading to the creation of Hubman and Palliser – but there was also public opposition against the parks.

Hubman and Palliser were also closer to the wildlife corridors and further from existing dog parks.

The Town has destination dog parks, which consist of Quarry Lake, Cougar Creek and Elk Run, while Hubman and Palliser are considered neighbourhood dog parks.

According to a staff report, as off-leash areas for dogs decrease in size, they also decrease in the type and number of amenities that accompany them.

"Where a destination park may accommodate parking for dog owners and various features for dogs, such as play structures and  water fountains, dog runs may simply consist of a fenced in portion of a field,” the report stated.“Dog runs, as well as neighbourhood parks, would be intended to service the needs of a particular neighbourhood and would be designed accordingly. Destination parks would be designed and sized to service the needs of the entire community, including visitors.”

Three of the five dog parks were already within the 20-m restriction, and there have not been complaints on file from residents, Welsh said.

“Each one of those parks have residences or industry closer than 20m, so because there haven’t been any complaints associated with what was assumed at the time to produce complaints, we arrived at the assumption that 20m would suffice,” Welsh said.

Welsh noted that compared to city dog parks, the “dog parks in town are rather bare bones,” but allow for dogs to run off a leash without going into a wildlife corridor.

“It makes good sense to me, just that we have those three other dog parks that fall closer to this criteria, and I know they’re well used,” Coun. Jeff Hilstad said.