The MD of Bighorn is stalling construction of a long-awaited pedestrian bridge in Dead Man’s Flats to prioritize taking a broader look at trail development opportunities throughout the MD.
Pegged at $75,000 in Bighorn’s 2023 budget, the Pigeon Creek pedestrian bridge is being delayed as a recently adopted recreation and community support services master plan shows equal resident interest in improving trail access across the MD.
“The one thing that aligned every area of the MD is the desire for more recreation trails,” said Reeve Lisa Rosvold.
“Although I know a bridge will happen over this creek at some point, we’re at a spot right now where rushing to build this bridge may not be the best thing for the community in the long term.”
Rosvold noted it was not only feedback in the recreation plan but lengthy discussions between council and administration around the proposed pedestrian bridge’s design and location that encouraged development of a trails master plan.
The pedestrian bridge would connect a trail on both sides of Pigeon Creek in the northwest corner of the community, however, a report to council determined the proposed platform-style design would be unsuitable for all groups.
“A bridge on the lower path would be impossible for somebody to bike over because they’d have to get down stairs, it’d be very hard for somebody with a stroller to have access to and there would be confusion around how that would be used,” said Rosvold.
The bridge design uses a set of stairs built during flood mitigation work after the 2013 flood, which leads down to the creek and connects to a path. The pathway, on either side of the creek, was also built during flood mitigation work, but a bridge was never constructed to connect it.
In the last nine years, the MD has applied for and received several provincial and federal grants to help mitigate creeks that were problematic during the flood, but flood recovery planning did not include a pedestrian bridge for Pigeon Creek, leaving Bighorn on the hook to fund it.
The creek already has one pedestrian bridge further downstream, but it does not connect to an official trail and often floods. The idea of moving the new bridge down further from the proposed location has also been explored, though it also comes with the risk of being washed out.
“You would almost have to move it down Pigeon Creek a little further, but then there’s no trails down there connecting to the bridge and administration has brought forward a number of concerns with flooding and icing,” said Rosvold.
In a meeting earlier this month, council approved redesignating capital funding for the bridge to assist in developing a trails master plan, including hiring a consultant to determine the best location of a future pedestrian bridge and address trail development needs throughout the MD.
The plan would aim to assist the MD in establishing and maintaining a comprehensive trails network, foster recreational activities and enhance visitor experiences.
“We’d like to do the bridge right in Pigeon Creek and in order to do it right, we need to be able to connect it to an identified trail,” said Rosvold. “This will help Dead Man’s Flats, but the trails master plan would be for the whole MD.”
The Dead Man’s Flats Community Association has advocated for the missing pathway connection since flood mitigation work was completed, but president Christopher Long said he believes a trails master plan may be the best way forward.
“While we would love to have a solution now for the creek, I think we can wait a little while longer to get a proper solution for our growing community,” he said in an email. “At the moment the community still wants a bridge, but if council can come up with a plan that can meet our needs one way or the other, I think our neighbours will be willing to discuss options. And if this makes our trail system better overall then I think that could be a bonus.”
During a council meeting earlier this month, Rosvold assured residents of the community the bridge is “not a dead idea.”
“It’s something that this council knows is still very much wanted, but the location of a bridge that’s getting washed out and the proposed location of a bridge that would not meet the needs of the entire community, might not be the best way to go,” she said.
Rosvold said she also hopes the plan helps define management expectations between the MD and the province where Bighorn, provincial and undesignated trails intersect.
“It’s rather complicated because there’s some trails that are official MD sanctioned trails, but most are not, and a lot of them are trails that lead to maybe provincial or Crown lands,” she said. “I do think there might be a need going forward for a little bit of wayfinding on the trail systems in the various areas and then just trying to help designate whether a trail is sanctioned by the MD or not.”
MD of Bighorn CAO Shaina Tutt advised council starting the process of developing a trails master plan before the next planned budget cycle will allow trail needs to be addressed sooner.
“By reallocating the funds currently to the trails master plan, it allows us to start it sooner rather than almost a full year before we’d have results from it. … That way, we may be looking at trail projects we could start next fall or early 2025,” she said.
Tutt noted the entire $75,000 would likely not be required to develop a trails master plan and any leftover funding would still be earmarked for the bridge.
Council is expected to discuss the trails master plan further when it reconvenes in September.
By Jessica Lee, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Aug 02, 2023