SUNDRE — A virtual brainstorming session hosted last week to kick ideas around the can for the future development of a four-season campground and passive use outdoor recreation area started the triage process to determine planning priorities.
The workshop followed on the heels of a survey that had previously been released seeking input from residents and stakeholders to determine what aspirations the community has for the roughly 37-acre parcel of land, located on Sundre’s east side south of Highway 27.
About two dozen people participated in the roughly three-hour event, which was hosted on the night of May 6 by consulting firm IBI Group with participation from the municipality.
Ben Lee, an associate director with IBI Group who specializes in urban design and placemaking, told the participants prior to the session that the input obtained throughout the course of the workshop would provide vital direction to develop a tailored plan that’s appropriate for Sundre.
Mike Marko, Sundre's director of planning and economic development, offered a brief background outlining that council had decided to acquire the land for the town because of its potential to, properly developed, contribute to year-round tourism and recreation activities for both economic development and community recreational use.
“What IBI is going to be producing for us is not only a conceptualization of how these lands can be developed, but they will also put together a forecasting plan on how it can be implemented over the next 10 years or so,” said Marko.
Amanda Polini, an IBI Group planner, said the survey — which wraps up May 14 — had already received about 40 responses as of the time of the workshop.
Polini described semi-passive recreation areas as a place for outdoor recreational activities in a predominately natural setting that requires minimal facilities or development and has a minimal environmental impact on the site.
Following the workshop, Polini said IBI’s landscape team would be designing a site concept and draft plan based on the identified priorities before eventually scheduling an open house in June.
Among the ideas gleaned from the initial responses to the survey were: pickleball; outdoor fitness; staging area for various tourism operations such as kayaking and horseback riding; markets for arts and crafts; bocce ball; trails; community garden; and a natural playground.
Other ideas included cooking area and barbecue day-use; archery; skating; bike skills park; outdoor culinary experience and food trucks; corporate meeting space and retreat; star gazing dome; ice crokinole; and, lifesize board game court.
Respondents also suggested showers or washrooms; lookout structures; beach and volley court; mini golf; barn dances and art shows; optimized camping sites; group RV sites of various sizes; multi-use flexible programmable outdoor event space; curling, specialty restaurant; water feature or pond; a picnic shelter and gazebo; petting zoo; operations kiosk and tourism centre; glamping and international tourism; and, a zip line.
To narrow down the lengthy list, participants proceeded to rank each of the ideas based on one of four priority levels: essential, important, good to have, and low.
While some suggestions received split responses ranging from essential to low importance, there seemed to be a level of consensus regarding trails, including the addition of an elevated wooden boardwalk leading into a lower-lying portion of wetland that could also include interpretational signage.
Mike Beukeboom, who was among the participants, wondered from a business perspective what considerations should be kept front and centre to accommodate campers who are coming to visit the area hauling an RV.
“Is the priority the campers and the campground, and then the community using this would be secondary?” asked Beukeboom for clarification.
Beukeboom also cautioned against disproportionately focusing on wish-list items over potential revenue-generating opportunities.
“The site is quite large,” said Polini.
“The main purpose is to have a campground, but also outdoor passive recreation. And so the two come hand-in-hand.”
Further elaborating, Lee added among the project's key driving factors are economic development and tourism, which will draw people into the community and by extension create a beneficial ripple effect for local businesses.
“But the town has acquired a large enough piece of land that there’s an opportunity to have multi-purpose recreational space. That not only benefits the tourism industry, but it can also benefit the local public. Now, whether one has more priority over another, that’s what this venue is for, is to flush that out a little bit more.”
Linda Nelson, Sundre’s chief administrative officer, confirmed a top priority for the project is to support local businesses, but also to be able to give the community an outdoor recreational space to enjoy.
Speaking in favour of the suggestion to include an opportunity for archery, Chris Vardas pointed to the 2018 Canadian Indoor 3D Archery Championships hosted in Sundre, an event that brought out several hundred people.
“It’s a type of thing that’s not only (for) adults and athletes, it’s children, it’s families, it’s friends,” said Vardas.
“It’s good all year round,” he later added.
“It makes children get involved in outdoor sports, and there’s a lot of hunting out here anyway.”
There was also a discussion regarding whether to prioritize another opportunity for skating. Although the municipality already has an arena as well as an outdoor rink located south of Sundre High School adjacent the skatepark, Beukeboom said another option might be worth including.
Vardas agreed, adding the arena and existing outdoor rink can at times be busy.
“It could also be nice to have somewhere you can go with your family and skate around. It’s not only just about hockey, it’s about getting your family outside.”
Among other ideas that rose to the surface during the first round of discussion were a dog park, a combined multi-use court for pickleball and tennis, as well as a mini golf. Done properly, Beukeboom said from personal experience that a putt putt course could even generate revenue.
Visit www.ibiviz.com/canwest/sundre, which features the project’s background and will be updated throughout the consultation process.