Kneehill County will continue Horseshoe Canyon summer program

Kneehill County council decided they will continue the Horseshoe Canyon pay parking program that ran over the summer of 2021. The decision was made at the Sept. 28 regular meeting of council.

Councillors heard a report from Shelby Sherwick, manager of parks & agricultural services, regarding the Horseshoe Canyon pay parking program which the county ran at the hiking area last summer.

“At the Feb. 9, 2021 council meeting, council moved to approve a pay parking pilot project at Horseshoe Canyon for 2021 running from May through Sept. long weekend at a rate of $2 per vehicle, and as part of the pilot project, administration would report back on the findings at the end of the 2021 season,” stated her summary.

“Among the recommended strategies from the Horseshoe Canyon Focus Group to include first and next, staffing the site with onsite ambassadors and implementing pay parking were noted, as well as collaborating with nearby, regional tourism locations.

The pay parking pilot project incorporated these recommended strategies from the focus group, and data on the pilot project has been collected for council’s consideration.’

During Sherwick’s presentation it was stated Kneehill County projected the pay parking at Horseshoe Canyon to generate upwards of $40,000, and for expenses to run about equal.

However, she stated actual revenue for the 2021 season came in at $17,492.26, while expenses came in at $20,392.42

Coun. Glen Keiver noted actual revenue and expenses were about half of what was projected and asked where the projections came from.

Sherwick answered the initial estimates were based on the Town of Drumheller’s 2019 hoodoos tourist site report for paid parking.

Sherwick said there were fewer vehicles and visitors than estimated, and one theory explaining why that happened was the intense heat through much of the summer discouraged visitors from visiting Horseshoe Canyon, which doesn’t have much in the way of shelter.

Her report also noted wildfire smoke and pandemic border closures may have also affected visitor numbers.

Sherwick also said Kneehill County didn’t keep staff on-site on days with low visitors.

Sherwick noted Kneehill County and partners had staff on site over summer, referred to as “ambassadors” in the report. “…these staff were able to address visitor concerns, encourage responsible visitation at the site, and tend to the outhouse and washroom facilities during weekends, which would have previously been completed less frequently and by Parks staff working outside of regular hours” stated her report.

“The presence of a Travel Drumheller ambassador onsite was a great benefit, as Drumheller specific questions could be directed to the ambassador.

Kneehill County staff were trained to share information with visitors on other tourism sites in the county.”

Sherwick stated staff had a few recommendations for the program if councillors chose to continue it in 2022, including keeping the parking fee the same as other nearby municipalities, continue working with Travel Drumheller, tweak the hours a bit to open earlier and consider seven days a week and consider a booth for staff shelter and possibly offer some branded merchandise and water bottles.

Coun. Debbie Penner stated she’d heard through the grapevine Drumheller’s visitor numbers were down too.

Penner asked if having staff there helped with safety concerns. Sherwick answered staff did help out a visitor who had a bit too much sun.

Coun. Faye McGhee stated the number one complaint she heard from residents is that there is a focus on Drumheller. McGhee stated this is a Kneehill County program, and the focus should be on Kneehill County tourism, not Drumheller but added she supported the program and felt it should continue and possibly be expanded.

Coun. Jim Hugo asked if there was a record kept of the food trucks that were at the canyon.

Sherwick answered no food trucks were there this summer and as far as she knew no food truck applications had been received.

Coun. Ken King stated he had family visit Horseshoe Canyon one afternoon and was told the county staff was friendly and helpful.

Councillors spent considerable time discussing how the future of Horseshoe Canyon should be planned and in how much detail.

They eventually unanimously passed a resolution that the Horseshoe Canyon pay parking program be included in the 2022 budget and that a future committee of the whole meeting accommodate a discussion on the Horseshoe Canyon program’s long term potential.

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