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Suddenly, Innisfail’s Dodd’s Lake is stressed

With unprecedented usage, the town moves urgently to address shoreline and parking congestion

INNISFAIL – Don Harrison has resided less than a block away from the languid still waters of Dodd’s Lake for the past four years and has never seen the high level of activity around it like last summer and fall.

“The use went from probably 50 times greater than what it was last year (2020),” said Harrison, adding there were times when no one could find a spot in the lake’s small parking lot, forcing motorists to find one along 56th Street.

Harrison added human pressure became so severe that sanitary issues also became a concern, as there are no public washrooms. That forced the town to install a port-a-potty in late summer.

“As far as fishing there were days of upwards of 10 or 15 fishermen there fishing for rainbow trout that was stocked by the Innisfail Lions Club and also the carp,” he said.

Harrison, a town councillor since 2020, addressed these concerns during council’s 2022 budget deliberations on Nov. 25.

The 35-minute discussion turned out to be the longest and most passionate item heard during three days of intense budgetary problem solving.

Since 2020, Dodd’s Lake has been the centre of public scrutiny. The future of the lake went through a comprehensive public engagement process for the town’s Dodd’s Lake Area Community Recreation Plan, a process that included extensive consultations with landowners and lake users through two public surveys and online discussion forums.

The process ended last May when administration released consultant Stantec’s 122-page report. It included a first phase $2.7 million plan to redevelop the town-owned southwest shoreline area of the lake for what is now called the Dodd's Lake Enhancement Project.

And then came Premier Jason Kenney’s “best summer ever” plan with the loosening of COVID restrictions. With a concurrent initiative from the Innisfail Lions Club to release 350 rainbow trout into Dodd’s Lake to join the exploding invasive Prussian carp population, the lake was inundated with COVID-weary anglers from Edmonton and Calgary and beyond.

“I think COVID pushed people to do different things in our community too, like walking and getting out,” said Coun. Jason Heistad. “I think that’s why there was an explosion in that area. We see more people out and about in our community than we’ve had in years.”

All seven councillor members were in agreement the lake experienced unprecedented usage last summer, and that something had to be done as soon as possible to relieve the pressure.

“It’s something we are going to have to look at, otherwise it’s going to create a problem,” said Coun. Gavin Bates, noting one motorist drove on the grass to the bushes and wasn’t anywhere near the gravel.

“It’s a toughie. It’s a big chunk of money and competing with everything else. It’s a situation that we will have to do something about next year, whether we create our own parking lot, and we may have to create some signage on the dock that says there are certain areas of it that have to be not fished on so people can actually launch a kayak.”

Council was reminded by Meghan Jenkins, the town’s director of community services, that a decision was pending on a $750,000 federal grant application to support the completion of Phase 1 of the Dodd's Lake Enhancement Project for the southwest area of the lake, specifically the boat launch, and the proposed spot for a parking lot with up to 32 stalls.

She said if the town is successful with its application the grant monies must be used by the end of 2022.

“If they give us the go then it’s supposed to happen rather rapidly,” said Jenkins, adding there was another grant application for $150,000, and others considered for submission in the new year. “If they don’t tell us soon it’s going to be a challenge for sure.”

As the town already has a conceptual design through the Stantec’s work, it was put to council by administration that it would not only be prudent to act quickly to address the increasingly serious congestion issues at Dodd’s Lake but it would just make good sense to be shovel-ready prepared.

It was proposed by administration to move to the detailed design stage for a proper parking lot for the southwest section of the lake.

If word comes soon of a successful grant application, and the town concurrently moves forward with the detailed design work at a cost of $50,000, construction could start this summer to address at least the parking issues.

“If we don’t get the grant, we still need to so something to alleviate some of that parking pressure,” said Harrison.

And while council could still dip into reserves to fix up the lake’s new problem issues, there are still other ones to consider.

Coun. Janice Wing said she felt the town was trying to “program” too many recreational activities into an area that may not be large enough, and that it would not only be too much for the natural environment but potentially problematic for nearby residences.

“I think we need to have a bigger picture of the area, surrounding the entire asset, and maybe considering how we might develop some of these activities and programs in different spots around the lake,” said Wing.

“I don’t want to see us spoil the natural beauty of the area by just all of a sudden having everybody in one spot.”

 



Johnnie Bachusky

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