Park’s future needs new debate

A discussion has to be undertaken about the town’s interest in the future of Sylvan Lake Provincial Park.

STEVE DILLS – Sylvan Lake News

A discussion has to be undertaken about the town’s interest in the future of Sylvan Lake Provincial Park.

We have to agree with Councillor Ken MacVicar that councillors must spend some time determining where they see the town’s future role with regard to the strip of land on the north side of Lakeshore Drive, and the massive acreage of the park which is now under water.

At the same time, we believe it’s again time for citizens of Sylvan Lake to think about the issue, voice their opinions and provide some guidance to our elected officials.

The town has progressively, over the past few years, since beginning their multi-million dollar facelift of Lakeshore Drive, been getting more involved in the park’s operation.

The simple reason is that visitors don’t recognize the line in the sand, or should we say dirt, that separates the town’s jurisdiction from the province’s responsibility.

As a result, complaints about the poor quality of washrooms or perceived lack of maintenance, rising water levels, lack of beach and a myriad of other issues have first been voiced to town residents and officials.

The town lobbied the provincial government for new washrooms and finally got their wish — even to the extent of managing the process of having them designed and erected.

Then the grandiose plan to put Lakeshore Drive on a diet, institute traffic calming and dramatically improve the image of our community, included an idea to take over Centennial Park and have it removed from the provincial park to the town’s jurisdiction.

The province bought in, first giving the town money to take over Lakeshore Drive (previously Highway 11A through town) and upgrade it, including putting in a storm water system which would capture and divert water from the street instead of allowing it to free flow into the lake.

Then, through a separate ministry, the province provided $3 million for the town to take over the triangular parcel known as Centennial Park so it could be made more usable in line with the redevelopment plan. The street on its north side was removed so the park could be joined to the provincial park and young kidlets wouldn’t have to scamper across a busy road to the beach and water.

The town’s next step into the park’s jurisdiction was to bid for and be awarded the maintenance contract for the provincial park. The rationale was that the town could do a better job and perhaps enhance what was taking place. They’re into their second year of a three year contract which seems to be working well.

Councillors have called for figures on the revenues and expenses of the many facets of town involvement in the province’s jurisdiction. These should be revealing. Besides maintenance and other issues, councillors also wanted to know the cost of providing ‘beach ambassadors’ who are there to promote Sylvan Lake’s tourism to visitors as well as direct them to such amenities as parking.

If we were to take a totally unjaundiced look at what’s happening we’d say the town owns the provincial park in everything but name.

The creeping influence that MacVicar alluded to last week is almost complete. The only thing that’s left may be to create a beach again. And the town, along with municipalities around the lake, are lobbying to have the lake level addressed.

Yes, it’s time to have the discussion again. Let’s not put any parameters on it either. It’s time to think outside the box. Think about how the town might fund a takeover of the park? Question whether we’re well served by having the provincial park under provincial jurisdiction or whether it could be more beneficial under town autonomy.

When considering the finances, we must point out that the town already charges a significant premium for non-residential (commercial) taxpayers over the rate residential taxpayers are charged. And since businesses located on Lakeshore Drive are in prime locations, their property values and thus assessments are already higher than other commercial areas of town. So people who say there’s no benefit to the town’s ownership of the park should perhaps take another look at how much additional tax those benefitting are paying.

We’ve presented other ideas for increasing revenue for lake access in the past and the town has contemplated another idea for capturing some of the tax dollars going to the province in the way of education taxes, but this comment is already too long. We’ll leave those discussions for another day.

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