Quick wins and short-term improvements worth up to $1 million are being proposed for the popular Harvie Passage on the Bow River.
The recommendation, along with the final report and a complete Facility Enhancement Plan from the Harvie Passage Task Force, comes to Wednesday’s Community Development Committee meeting.
Regular user groups, along with the area city councillor, said Harvie Passage has become increasingly popular in recent years. The heightened traffic in the area has led to the need for improvements in different areas.
The general area encompasses the Harvie Passage lookout, the whitewater park and a gravel area with a boat launch, and it is adjacent to the Sam Livingston Fish Hatchery and ponds, along with the Pearce Estate Park.
After years of work, the Harvie Passage Task Force has highlighted the need for improvements – among them upgrades to the washrooms, pathways, crossings and parking lots.
Ward 9 Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra said the increased popularity of the area has led to the need for further upgrades.
“Spacing magazine declared that Harvie Passage was one of the top 100 public spaces in Canada (in 2013) and it was spectacularly successful,” Carra said.
“All of a sudden, river-living Calgarians had almost a beach-like environment, a series of pools that they could hang out around.”
Just as the area was peaking in popularity, the 2013 Calgary flood ripped through, significantly damaging the area and the flow of the passage, which now was going south through the forest instead of west.
Instead of trying to return the flow westward a new plan was made to let nature take its course and continue the flow south which in turn made the Harvie Passage even more popular. Carra calls this the Harvie Passage 2.0.
“Harvey Passage 2.0 emerged and it's even nicer than the original Harvie Passage because it was even nicer it has just gotten crushed over the years by so many people who come out to enjoy the sun and enjoy the water, enjoy sports, enjoy the river, enjoy frolicking like it's just a spectacular public space. The problem with well-used public spaces is that you need well-developed management plans,” Carra said.
Shoulder to shoulder
Mike Holroyd, executive director for the Alberta Whitewater Association (AWA), sent a letter of support for the improvements to the committee, on behalf of members of the Calgary River Users Alliance.
He told LWC the proposed upgrades will enhance the experience of the Harvie Passage.
“Harvie Passage and Pearce Park have become a massive regional park for Calgary. There are thousands of people there on a hot day, on a hot weekend,” Holroyd said.
“It's shoulder to shoulder; there's no parking, and so a lot of what needs to be done in the short term is to satisfy those needs.”
Data included in the task force report showed that weekend traffic regularly exceeded the number of parking spots available in the area. That's caused a spillover effect into the nearby areas. The southeast Calgary communities of Inglewood and Mills Estate border the park area to the west.
The proposed upgrades include $20,000 for smaller universal change stalls, $200,000 for pathways upgrades, safe crossings, signage and emergency location markers, $250,000 for parking lot improvements, capacity signage and expansion, $60,000 for boathouse concept designs and $375,000 for upgrades to the existing washrooms.
The task force report also noted traffic congestion leading to the main parking area and no direct public transit access.
Holroyd said these are great additions to the area, but only short-term solutions.
Safety is a key aspect of improvements: Holroyd
For Holroyd, safety will always be the number priority for the area.
“There are people swimming down there regularly with no life jackets on and floating down with no life jackets on and there are kids standing in the water, mere inches from being swept away. That's happening on a daily basis,” Holroyd said.
The need for a proper education and enforcement facility is what Holroyd hopes to see next.
AWA has contributed time and money for a lifejacket lending station, along with other safety equipment and safety education in the area. They're continuing that work in the area.
“As a river user, it's actually terrifying to go down there because that's happening all the time," Holroyd said.
"So we're hoping that through the implementation of this facility enhancement plan, some of that stuff will be alleviated.
Carra also agreed that safety should be a top priority while also discussing other long and short-term solutions to improving the area.
“The big questions were day-to-day operations. Can we collect the garbage, make sure that people have a place to go to the bathroom, make sure that there's places for people to park when they come to visit," Carra said.
"Then a longer-term program to start accommodating the needs of the paddling community in a fairly nearby clubhouse situation with boat storage, potentially a kiosk, things like that."