Recreation Grounds Horse Trail
In 2023, the Town of Banff will undertake improvements and widening of the existing shared trail that runs parallel to Cave Avenue, between Sundance Road and Birch Avenue, to accommodate the daily transportation of horses in the summer months, as occurred in 2022. The project to create a new trail dedicated only to horses has been cancelled.
The Banff Trail Riders walk a string of horses each day in the summer between the stables in the Recreation Grounds and the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel for trail rides east of the hotel. The horses are led to the hotel area in the morning and back in the evening.
In the past, the horses were transported on a trail running on the northern boundary of the Recreation Grounds. However, with the new pedestrian bridge and redeveloped amenities in this area of the recreation grounds, it was always planned to reroute the horse transportation to the southern boundary – along Cave Avenue – to reduce potential conflict between horses and many more users – cyclists going to the new bike park, dog walkers heading to the off-leash park, visitors, etc.
In 2019, Town Council approved construction of a dedicated horse trail between Sundance Road and Birch Avenue, parallel to an existing multi-use trail. A dedicated horse trail was originally approved in the Recreation Grounds Master Plan as a way to avoid the increasingly popular trail.
At that time, a total budget of $182,000 was assigned to the project to construct the trail.
In 2022, ground conditions where the new horse trail was proposed, in proximity to wetlands, required the construction to be delayed until the fall of 2022. In order to ensure that horses could still be re-routed out of the Recreation Grounds for the 2022 season as planned, improvements were made to the existing Cave Avenue multi-use trail in the forested area. Two access points to the Cave Avenue forested trail (one at the Sundance Road end, and the other at the Birch Avenue end) were constructed. Signage was developed, some of the sight lines were improved (to reduce surprise conflict) by cutting branches to widen the trail at horse height. The trail was closed to other users for the periods when the horses were transported – a few minutes two times per day (first between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m., and later between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.), from approximately May to October.
Environmental impact would require remediation
In 2022, an environmental impact assessment concluded that construction of the horse trail would result in the direct loss of 1,680 square metres of intact wetland/riparian habitat, and fragmentation of a larger 5,600 square metres habitat area surrounding the trail. To ensure insignificant adverse environmental effects (required for Parks Canada approval) the Town would have to offset this habitat loss by reclaiming/naturalizing an equivalent area elsewhere. The most suitable option for this work is an area surrounding the wetland pond east of the sports field. This work would cost of between $85,000 and $125,000 based on 2022 bids on similar reclamation projects – adding more than 50% to the cost of the horse trail project.
Town asked for public input
In August 2022, Banff Town Council directed administration to postpone construction of the separate, dedicated horse trail in the fall, and undertake consultation with area residents and locals who use the area about the success of the summer shared trail and improvements. Council wanted to determine if the new trail and reclamation work would be needed, of if the budget could be reduced and spent on widening the existing trail for continued shared use.
As part of the annual service review in November-December 2022, Banff Town Council reviewed administration’s assessment of the summer use of the trail and temporary closures to allow horse transport, as well as public input on the horse trail.
Banff Town Council cancelled the Dedicated Horse Trail Project and directed administration to proceed with improvements and widening of the existing Cave Avenue shared trail to accommodate use for the daily transportation of horses in the summer months. Up to $40,000 of the existing budget will be used for improvements on the Cave Avenue trail.
As a result, $125,000 from the 2023 capital budget and $142,000 from the 2022 budget were returned to the Recreation Grounds dedicated Capital Reserves due to no longer needing the creation of a new dedicated horse trail, nor the required remediation of equivalent lands.