A master plan for Idlewild Park has been approved by city council at a meeting earlier this week, however, staff is still looking into the possibilities of having a public swim area at the lake.
Chris New, the Leisure Services director, said the consultants who prepared the final report feel that a swimming area doesn’t fit with the plan.
“We’ve talked about it a couple times through the public sessions with swimming,” said New. “There are things; it’s an active dam so we have to have a dam safety plan, there are potential water issues, whether it fits with the other types of uses in the park…there are other things we’d have to explore.”
New said the most likely spot for a swimming would be the upper side of the lake where the creek flows in — the opposite side of where the dam is.
However, there are concerns beyond the swimming.
“My personal concern is if we had a hot day, we could have hundreds of people trying to go there,” said New. “Remember it’d be just that chunk of the upper cell and we if we want those things like riparian enhancements and fishing and want the disability access to nice trails, want the weddings…my personal opinion is it’s not a great fit.”
Both Councillors Tom Shypitka and Ron Popoff lent their voices in support of exploring swimming options, if possible, at the lake.
“I just don’t like staff writing off the options that this can be used for some sort of water recreation and I didn’t really get that sense in this report,” said Popoff. “I think it needs to be looked at and for all the good reasons that you listed on why it may not be a good idea, I think there are other good technical reasons why it would still be a good idea to have some sort of water recreation.”
Councillor Norma Blissett noted that the feedback received during the open houses seemed to indicate the public wanted it kept natural.
“My feeling from attending some of the events, is most people really wanted it kept as a natural area as much as possible,” Blissett said, “and really valued a more natural area. I think that was the prime value and I think that’s what’s been expressed in the master plan and I don’t think a lot of water recreational use is consistent with that.
“It’s not a large enough area to accommodate both and I think the idea of improving accessibility, walking tours, picnic facilities…I think that’s been addressed and I don’t think I want the staff to pursue more on swimming opportunities at this time.”
Councillor Isaac Hockley said there was plenty of feedback on what to do with Idlewild Park that ranged from surveys to a Facebook page — Make Idlewild Great Again — which was administered by The Choice.
“I’d love to have a beach and swimming but when you look at people’s input on this, the majority of what I’ve seen was exactly what Councillor Blissett said,” Hockley added.
The master plan encompasses the redevelopment of the park following the construction of a new dam on Idlewild Lake that replaced an old failing structure.
A few amenities include things like expanded picnic areas on both sides of the lake, a natural amphitheatre, upgraded playgrounds and washrooms.
A disc golf course will also be installed which came after positive feedback from high school students, New said.
“We did do some reach out to the high school, that’s actually where we found extremely strong support for disc golf,” said New, “which was in our plan as an unobtrusive new activity for the younger age group to complement other family-friendly activities.
“But I had no idea, it was like two-thirds of the class were up at the college on the disc golf course.”
The five-year plan is more of a guideline than a hard policy document, but it will be used in the context of upcoming budget consultations.
The city received a $2.8 million federal gas tax grant in 2015, with $2.2 going towards the reconstruction of the dam. The remainder will be used for the park upgrades, which the city is hoping to partner with local organizations and non-profit groups.
During the same council meeting, Chief Administrative Officer David Kim said the dam construction is nearly complete. Most of the concrete and earth work is finished and the reservoir is expected to be filled before the end of the month.