Kneehill County approves 2023 Horseshoe Canyon fee program

Kneehill County will continue the fee program at Horseshoe Canyon in 2023, with some changes to the program name and budget.

Parks and Agricultural Services manager Shelby Sherwick presented council with a summary of the 2022 season during the regular Tuesday, November 15 council meeting and outlined some of the program’s successes and challenges since it was implemented in 2021.

“I personally feel the (Horseshoe Canyon) lookout and the area that’s there is in better condition and appears more attractive with our staff there,” said Deputy Reeve Ken King during the meeting. “People tend to be much more respectful, because of our staff.”

The program was launched in 2021, with staff onsite between May and September long weekends, collecting a $2 fee from visitors to the site. In the first year of the program, a total of 7,696 vehicles were recorded and staff collected a total of $17,492.26 in revenue; funds from the program help support Kneehill County in the care and conservation of Horseshoe Canyon.

Council approved the program for the 2022 season in September 2021 and projected revenues and expenses at $30,000 based on staffing costs, supplies, and increasing visitor tourism following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Staff were once again onsite during the same May to September period between Thursdays and Mondays, equating to a total of 74 days. A total of 7,608 vehicles visited the site, and a total of $15,943.13 was collected, including $727.13 in donations above the $2 fee.

“I know we run on a deficit on the parking part of that program, but just the presence of those (staff members) there more than makes up for the deficit, in my opinion,” Deputy Reeve King stated.

Along with collecting fees, staff also helped upkeep site cleanliness, facilitated access for emergency services to the site, and answered visitor questions in real time.

While a majority of comments staff received from visitors were positive--either general inquiries about the site, other tourism locations within the region, suggestions for site improvements, or expressions of favour for the fee program--about 24 per cent of visitors expressed they were not in favour of the fee program. Ms. Sherwick noted some of these comments were from residents within the Kneehill County and surrounding areas who felt local residents should be exempt.

During discussions, council questioned whether the pushback received from some site visitors could be due to opposition based on the name of the program. It was suggested changing the name to either a park or conservation fee, rather than a parking fee, may have better reception as it would better reflect the purpose behind the charge.

Another suggestion was to look at implementing a regional pass for residents of Kneehill County and surrounding areas, and adding a fee for motor coaches which had not been included in the 2021 pilot program due to travel restrictions at the time.

Council unanimously approved moving continuing the program as the Horseshoe Canyon facility fee in 2023, with projected revenues and expenses of $25,000.

Lacie Nairn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, DrumhellerMail.com, The Drumheller Mail