It’s been three and a half years since the Calgary floods, and with the support of City Council a new River Access Strategy will be implemented over the next few years to improve safety and accessibility for Calgarians.

On Feb. 13, Councillors Gian-Carlo Carra and Shane Keating, of Ward 9 and 12 respectively, agreed with the the new River Access Strategy. Amongst other things, the strategy promises $5.5 million to restore former access points along the Bow and Elbow Rivers over the next four years.

According to Councillor Keating, the reasons for the promised construction are to protect the environment, ensure user safety and allow tourism and commercial opportunities to grow.

“When you look at the history of Calgary, we have a large city with two fabulous rivers in it that have been used for technically centuries,” says Keating. “We believe we had as many as 18 different spots where you could actually launch either a boat you sat in or a dingy or you were able even to go swimming in the river at some point in time.”

ShaneKeatingWard 12 Councillor Shane Keating believes the new River Access Strategy will increase tourism and protect the environment, among other things. Photo by Sarah Kirk.

Over the years, various river access points slowly disappeared and after the 2013 floods, there were only two or three access points remaining.

“There was an increasing demand for more and better access to the [Bow River], for recreational opportunities,” says Doug Marter, manager of capital planning and infrastructure for Calgary Parks.“On a hot summer day you can see multiples of people and rafts on the river and it’s a natural free sort of recreational amenity.”

“On a hot summer day you can see multiples of people and rafts on the river and it’s a natural free sort of recreational amenity.” – Doug Marter says.

“Part of that is looking to make sure that we have parking available,” says Marter.

The new River Access Strategy will add new access points, add parking lots or reuse existing lots, install public facilities such as washrooms and offer programs with tour guides and volunteers.

Along with the new and improved access points added to the [Bow and Elbow Rivers], Keating assures there will be environmental ambassadors available to educate citizens and tourists about the river. These ambassadors will be hired by the city and also train volunteers to help out. It will be a lot like the staff at some off-leash dog parks, explains Keating.

“I think they are called the ‘puppy passengers’ in the off-leash dog parks so they will have a number of volunteers who come out and talk about dogs and training and ask people to clean up after themselves,” says Keating.

The new strategy will also create better safety measures for those who like floating down the Elbow and Bow Rivers in the summer.

“Sunday afternoon, if you wanted to float for three hours why couldn’t you have a designated, well-mapped out way to go to a very [environmentally safe] spot?” asks Keating.

Despite the renowned popularity of the Bow River in the tourism industry, it is surprising how little the river access points have been maintained over the years.

“There is a large demand in this city […] for better access to the river. You know in Calgary we have, as far as fishing is concerned it’s a world-class river for fishing and there’s a lot of tourism that comes to Calgary as a result of that,” says Marter. “Plus, if you are increasing demand from recreational use of the river on a hot summer day you can see [multitudes] of people and rafts on the river and it’s a natural free sort of recreational amenity.”

Despite the amount of tourism on the Bow and Elbow Rivers, the lack of access points has proved to be a nuisance for newcomers who want to fish.

“They were having great difficulty because there was only two [entry points] and they have to be at two extreme ends of the city. And to go from here to there is about an eight- or nine-hour float,” explains Keating.

According to the Calgary River Users Alliance river tourism brings in $50 million annually to the city’s economy. The new River Access Strategy will begin construction in late 2017.

The editor responsible for this article is Jennifer Dorozio, 

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