It is a truth universally acknowledged, that Canmore is a town that loves its dogs.
With 1,500 licensed dogs in the community, and the 2016 federal census from Statistics Canada showing a total population of 1,325 residents under the age of 19 years old, the urban legend that there are more dogs than children in the mountain town may still hold true.
So with the changes expected to the Quarry Lake off-leash dog park area this spring, it is fair to say there likely won't be many tails wagging in excitement.
The municipality is removing a one-kilometre looped trail from the designated off-leash area. The trail connects the meadow off-leash area, adjacent to the parking lot, to a pond. Many dog owners use the pond each summer as it is the only location where dogs can frolic in the water off-leash without breaking bylaws or provincial parks regulations here in the valley.
Both the pond and the meadow will remain off-leash, with new fencing and signage to delineate what is and what is not an off-leash dog area.
Because there has been a lot of confusion during the past couple of years around what is on-leash, and what is off-leash in that location. Officials say municipal bylaw peace officers have had difficulty enforcing the rules, as dog walkers have been uncertain about the rules.
It is not surprising, however, as when the Town launched this pilot looped-trail expansion of the dog park in 2017, it decided to try and minimize changing the permanent infrastructure in the area and instead relied on temporary signage to communicate expectations to the public.
The result is that there was a lack of clarity and consistency to communicate off-leash and on-leash areas. The loop trail, for example, continued to have signage indicating it was an on-leash area. Another sign, on the other hand, tells users it is off-leash.
While there was a looped trail that dog walkers could use off-leash, there was another trail that remained on-leash that headed toward Canmore Creek, but then also looped to the pond.
By choosing not to properly sign the entire area to reflect the changes for the pilot program, the municipality has created its own confusion, not just for bylaw, but also for users. Now it is using this confusion as justification to remove the trail from the off-leash area.
It is not the only reason, however, that officials have proposed for these changes to the overall off-leash park area. Quarry Lake and the dog park sits within a habitat patch, which numerous species of wildlife use.
When it comes to managing the overall area and considering the potential for human use to come into conflict with wildlife, the removal of the trail from the wooded area understandably has better outcomes for those animals.
The wooded area has become an unofficial off-leash zone for many park users, even though it is space actively used by black and grizzly bears, for example.
With the potential conflicts that could occur between an off-leash dog and a bear, there is value in finding better compliance for the off-leash rules and created dedicated areas for the use of humans and areas for the use of wildlife. All within a very busy corner of the mountain town that loves its dogs.