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Town keeps River Valley Wilderness Park gate closed

The Town of Fort Macleod is keeping the western [art of wilderness park closed to vehicle traffic.

River Valley Wilderness Park remains closed to vehicle traffic.

Fort Macleod council voted last week to keep the park gate closed and locked in the interests of pedestrian safety.

Council’s decision at its June 22 meeting at the G.R. Davis Administration Building followed a presentation by director of operations Adrian Pedro.

Pedro told council the park gates were closed to vehicle traffic earlier this year in anticipation there would be more foot traffic due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The initiative has proven successful as we have observed increased usage of the park,” Pedro noted in his written report.

Pedro told council people walking in River Valley Wilderness Park are protected from encountering a vehicle on the access trail.

Pedro told council the trail is poorly aligned, has limited sight lines, no traffic control signage and there is no separation between vehicles and pedestrians.

“We felt this was a necessity,” Pedro said of closing the park to vehicle traffic.

Administration wants the gate closed permanently to random vehicle traffic.

The only exception is a land owner who accesses his property through River Valley Wilderness park.

Coun. Kristi Edwards said she has been stopped by residents on this subject numerous times.

“I have some community members who are going to be ecstatic about this,” Edwards said. “They love that it’s been closed off since COVID started and they were petitioning me to make sure that remained after the situation changed.”

“I know there are a lot of community members who will be appreciative.”

Edwards said there has been more wildlife sightings in River Valley Wilderness Park since the gate was closed and locked.

Coun. David Orr said the decision to keep the gate closed will not be universally welcomed.

“There are obviously at least some who are not happy with this, given that it’s clear someone has driven into that gate and almost pushed through it with their vehicle,” Orr said.

Orr is not convinced there is a safety issue with vehicles and pedestrians using the access trail.

“I’m not sure we’ve had that many near misses on that road before,” Orr said.

Orr said some people won’t or can’t walk to the end of the road in the park, but they do enjoy driving through the park.

“In some ways, this is reducing the use of that park for many citizens,” Orr added. “For those who drive down that road and enjoy that view of the park, that is being taken away from them.”

Orr said the road was well-used by vehicles in the past.

Coun. Marco Van Huigenbos agreed, as did Coun. Gord Wolstenholme.

Wolstenholme noted the park was in past used for slowpitch games twice a week, with no incidents between vehicles and pedestrians.

“It seemed to work well,” Wolstenholme said. “I can see the point, but I’m not sure how much safety becomes involved in here.”

Mayor Brent Feyter said he has mixed feelings about the gate closure, understanding that some people won’t be able to access the west end of the park.

“We’re open to feedback,” Pedro said, adding only one person has complained about the closure.

Orr said that may be because residents realized the need to close the park to vehicles since more people would be on foot for exercise during the pandemic lockdown.

Pedro said from an engineering perspective the road is not suitable to accommodate both foot and vehicle traffic at the same time.

People still have vehicle access to River Valley Wilderness park on the east side of Highway 811.

Feyter encouraged people to let council know whether they support the gate closure.

“If we get overwhelming feedback we can certainly reconsider,” Pedro agreed.