Our rivers are an important resource. They contribute to Calgary’s beauty, provide us with drinking water and provide economic and recreational benefit.
The Bow River specifically gets a tremendous amount of attention internationally as a world class fly fishing destination. The Calgary River Users Alliance estimates that 12,000 anglers fish the Bow every year and that it generates as much as $24.5 million to the local economy.
The river also provides numerous recreational opportunities for Calgarians. Throughout the summer it is common to see canoes, kayak, paddle board users and countless Calgarians soaking up the sun and enjoying a leisurely float down the Bow or Elbow rivers.
Calgary’s paddling community has estimated that in excess of 13,000 people float our rivers annually, contributing more than $6M to the local economy. Paddle Alberta is conducting a survey this year that will further expand on recreational use on the Bow and Elbow River.
Unfortunately there are limited opportunities for Calgarians to access our rivers in ways that are safe and environmentally responsible. Prior the 2013 floods there were as many as 8 public launches that could be accessed by numerous user groups. Today there are only 2 public launches that are separated by Harvie Passage and 15 hours or more of floating.
Why is river access an important topic now? On May 18, 2016 Parks sent out a memo to Council to update the current situation at boat launches and access points within the city. This memo specifically outlined some of the issues occurring at Graves Bridge in the southeast. At one point Graves was an approved boat launch location. The 2013 flood redirected the river to the east side of the channel and drastically changed this access point. Vehicles now routinely drive out onto the gravel bar in some cases damaging sensitive habitat.
Users are going to find ways to access the river. Without the provision of safe and structure access points, there could be risk to personal safety and risk to the river.
Earlier this year Councillor Carra and I introduced a Notice of Motion to Council:
Our Motion asked for collaboration between a number of City departments to build a strategy for improving Calgary’s river access. The Motion passed unanimously before Council.
The City response to Council direction has been terrific. Parks has been working closely with stakeholder groups to get a clear picture on future direction. In October there will also be opportunities for the public to input their feedback on the future of Calgary’s river access. You can stay up to date on this entire project at calgary.ca/riveraccess
Better river access makes sense. It provides public benefit, commercial benefit and environmental benefits. I look forward to seeing this strategy come together in the months to follow.