Kneehill County councillors began a discussion about Horseshoe Canyon recommendations and ended it by discussing whether taxpayers should be involved with the recreation attraction at all. The debate occurred at the May 25 regular meeting of council.
Councillors initially heard a report from Shelby Sherwick, manager of parks and agricultural services, regarding the Horseshoe Canyon focus group, a committee created to provide recommendations to council on the site’s future guided by three principles: positive visitor experience, economic benefit and responsible management.
Sherwick noted council already examined these recommendations at an April Committee of the Whole meeting and the five page document was at council for formal approval.
Coun. Wade Christie asked how the parking fee was going over at the park.
Sherwick reported, overall, it seemed people were accepting the charge. She noted Horseshoe Canyon was busy over the May long weekend, seeing about 330 paid vehicles on the Saturday and fewer the next day.
Coun. Jim Hugo asked if Horseshoe Canyon is truly a tourism destination or just a primer for people on their way to Drumheller. He added that he doesn’t see the economic benefits of Kneehill County’s Horseshoe Canyon efforts.
Sherwick stated that the county has collected some survey data and asked visitors if the canyon was their primary destination and the majority said hiking at Horseshoe Canyon was their main activity that day.
She also noted some people chose not to stay once they learned there was a fee for parking and some did ask about Drumheller.
Hugo stated the county pays a lot of money for tourism sites and asked if local taxpayers really need them.
Coun. Faye McGhee stated she felt that was a question for council, not staff. McGhee then stated the reality is taxpayers have Horseshoe Canyon so the county needs to be responsible with it.
Hugo responded that he felt ratepayers should have a say in the future of Horseshoe Canyon through a referendum on the upcoming municipal election ballot.
Reeve Jerry Wittstock noted the county generated about $960 in a few days on parking fees, which isn’t bad.
Wittstock also stated events like the long table dinners are very popular and he’s spoken to tourists from places like Calgary who enjoy coming to the canyon.
Hugo countered that should be compared to the over $1 million spent on Horseshoe Canyon over the past few years.
McGhee responded that the question of Horseshoe Canyon was decided years ago when the municipality took it over.
Hugo came back by stating it seems what residents want doesn’t matter, just what council wants is what matters and he added that he’s never heard a resident say the county should own Horseshoe Canyon.
McGhee stated public input matters to the council and pointed out much of the focus group was made up of stakeholders.
Hugo added that ratepayers seem hesitant on recreation in general but especially feel that Horseshoe Canyon is a black hole for money.
Hugo also stated ratepayers want to know how Horseshoe Canyon will benefit them but that he feels the canyon will never benefit them and that the funding would be better spent on infrastructure.
“I can’t see it being a benefit to this county,” said Hugo.
Coun. Ken King stated recreation, like many municipal responsibilities, doesn’t have the goal of making money and recreation is attractive for many current and future residents.
King stated he’s spoken to many residents who are “more than happy” Kneehill owns the canyon.
“In my mind, recreation has value,” said King.
Coun. Christie stated that when hiring new employees he often gets asked about recreational opportunities in the county. He added that the value of recreation can’t always be judged in terms of dollars.
Coun. Debbie Penner stated she’s heard residents voice support for the county’s ownership of the canyon, that staff at the canyon help promote the county and having the canyon is positive for the future.
Councillors accepted the focus group’s recommendations.
Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative reporter