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Happy trails (and more of them)

Tract outlines network of walking and ATV routes as part of Master Plan

by Craig Westcott/December 2, 2021

A consultant hired by the Town of CBS outlined the skeleton of a new master plan for recreation last week that if realized could see a network of walking and ATV trails connecting the community, facilities for boaters and a new multi-use community centre.

The plan was presented by Tract Consulting during a two-hour session at the Royal Canada Legion in Kelligrews Thursday night. It was chaired by Ward 1 councilor Shelly Moores, who heads the Town’s recreation committee.

The public has until December 21 to respond to the ideas before Tract lays meat on the bones of the plan, which will replace the existing one that was created in 2008.

Tract Consulting head Neil Dawe said his company will present the final version to council by the end of December.

Dawe began by outlining the town’s expected demographics in the coming years.

“Virtually for all planning, demographics is critical, understanding your population, the different age groups and the number you have in the community and what your community is going to look like over the next 10 or 20 years so you can plan versus react,” Dawe said.

The town’s geography is also important, Dawe added. “From a recreation planning perspective, roughly a third of people can’t take part in recreation because they either can’t afford it, or they can’t get to a recreation asset,” he said. 

That’s why it’s important to design recreation facilities to enable more people to access them. Fortunately, CBS is already blessed with “some fantastic amenities” to connect it, Dawe said.

Because of the extension of Peacekeepers Way and the development of water and sewer in the Seal Cove and Upper Gullies end of town, that part of CBS is expected to grow significantly in the coming years.

According to a study by the Harris Centre at Memorial University, Dawe said, the number of people in CBS and the northeast Avalon over the age of 65 will increase by 75 per cent by 2035. That’s due to the natural aging of the population. “That’s a significant impact on the community,” said Dawe. The cohort aged 55-64 will also increase in numbers, but not by as much. 

If the Town embarks on a marketing plan to attract more people, Dawe said, CBS could see some 4,500 new residents in the 25 to 34 age group over that same period. “And that’s the sweet spot for municipalities,” said Dawe, “because those are the people generally speaking, (who are) starting families. That’s what communities are looking for.”

A big factor affecting planning Dawe noted, has been the pandemic. “Covid has changed the water on the beans in how we utilize our communities.”

Dawe said Tract called 50 town managers to gauge how it is affecting municipalities. “The big thing they told us is that people are now getting out (of the house). People are now working from home. They’re realizing that you don’t have to hop in your car, drive to St. John’s and zoom back,” Dawe said. “Working from home is really changing the communities and the number of home-based businesses in the community has grown rapidly. That too has an impact on recreation infrastructure and on social gathering places in your community.”

Covid has established public parks and trails as being essential to community well-being, Dawe said. “I would suggest if there was no pandemic, that parks and trails are still essential to community health and well being and they have measurable economic value,” he argued. “They’re not a capital burden, they’re an investment in place.”

CBS, Dawe pointed out, spends some $4.6 million on recreation annually. In terms of cost recovery, or revenue, the Town gets more money back from special events and the least amount from Worsley Park in Chamberlains. CBS also charges lower program fees than its neighbouring municipalities. The population itself, meanwhile, is mainly affluent, he added. “That’s not to say that we don’t have the socially disadvantaged in this community that needs support and assistance to participate in recreation facilities and enjoy programs,” he said. “But it’s great that we have such affluence in this community.”

Dawe suggested the Town could recover more money by charging fees to user groups of facilities such as the CBS Arena. “If you were to charge $20 per player, you could generate $60,000 per annum that you could put into support other programs or to reinvest back into your facilities,” he said.

That idea generated some opposition in a Q&A session with the public after the presentation.

Dawe said recreation is a big business and new facilities attract residential development.

“CBS has, in our opinion, two major regional outdoor recreational assets that allow the Town to benefit in a measurable and significant way to tap into the regional market,” Dawe said. “And those two are the CBS T’Railway and the proposed ATV trail.”

The catchment area for potential users of the T’railway, he reckoned, is some 100,000 people. 

“We’ve got 10 kms of coastline,” he added. “And this is what people are looking for. Bikers are increasing significantly… You can hop on your bike and on a six per cent grade bike to St. John’s… We’re also seeing that these folks are visiting businesses in the area.”

Improving facilities for boaters at Foxtrap Marina, Seal Cove Pond, and Indian Pond, which are all located along the T’Railway, would also attract visitors, he said. 

Building an ATV trail, meanwhile, could be a major economic boon, according to Dawe, whose company first looked at developing such a route in CBS back in 2010. 

“There’s an abundance of users in the region,” he said. “We’ve done studies for Holyrood and Paradise and there’s a lot of people who are ATVing… Sales of ATVs are up 30 per cent since 2019.”

Dawe said the idea of an ATV trail scores favourably with many CBS residents.

“It’s a lot of fun, but there’s no formal, purpose-built trail here,” Dawe said. “But the Town is working away at it… Think about it. If you had an ATV trail here that linked into Holyrood, you could hop on that ATV and if you wanted, you could go right to Port aux Basques. Right now, ATVers are getting off in Port aux Basques and going to Placentia Junction and going down into Placentia to get the ferry. The reason they are not coming into St. John’s is that they can’t get close. Opportunities abound, in my opinion.”

The gateway to the ATV trail at Seal Cove, combined with the access to the bay there, is another reason to come or even move to CBS, Dawe contended.

Returning to an earlier theme, Dawe said people 55 and older are extremely active and so programs need to be designed to accommodate them. The biggest demand, he said, is for places to walk. “It’s not something that’s nice to have, it’s becoming a need, and it will attract new people to your community,” he said.

Looking at the facilities already here, Dawe observed that access to parks is not adequately distributed throughout town, and in some cases the equipment is aging or outdated.

Dawe argued everyone should be within a five minute walk of a park or trail, or some other recreation amenity.

To reach that goal, Dawe outlined a plan that would see paths and trails radiating off the T’railway and into the 14 river valleys that feed into town. Neighborhood parks would be added where appropriate. In the woods and hills south of Peacekeeper’s Way, Dawe is proposing the creation of an ATV trail with similar “dedicated right of ways” to the populated areas.

There are already dozens of informal ATV trails in CBS, he pointed out.

“We’re saying this is a starting point, and we do feel the Town needs to study this is to use these needs to study this (idea) further and deeply, but it’s a lot of work,” Dawe admitted.

“There’s room to do it. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, you just have to modify how the wheel works.”

Dawe further suggested the Town seek agreements with the provincial school board to integrate the use of school facilities in its recreation plans.

In devising the draft plan, Dawe said, Tract held 14 meetings and met with some 57 organizations. The company and the Town had 934 responses to its residents’ survey, including 61 youth respondents.

“We found that sports groups would benefit from a new indoor sports facility,” Dawe said. “New volleyball courts would support being able to host tournaments. A new community centre would be important to the social fabric of the town. Arts and culture facilities are a gap in the town. Professional performing space would benefit the performing arts as well as tourism.”

Dawe said there is also need for affordable, adaptable spaces for meetings, workshops and banquets

“The need for a curling rink was discussed and perhaps the need for a new indoor pool so that we would host tournaments,” he added.

Dawe said 75 per cent of the respondents agreed the Town should expand its trails system, while 61 per cent feel the Town should play a role in arts and culture programming.

The highest priorities from the respondents, Dawe said, included better trail connections between neighbourhoods, splash pads, a new community centre, a farmers’ market, youth centre, new indoor swimming pool and a turf facility. Some of those priorities could all be accommodated in one building, he allowed.

Dawe said some 55 per cent of respondents expressed willingness to pay higher property taxes or user fees for the new amenities.

Dawe is proposing the Town organize an annual arts and nature festival, and undertake feasibility studies for nearly everything identified by the survey respondents, including a farmers market and curling rink. Dawe said the town would also benefit from more ball diamonds and amenities at Richard Parsons Park in Seal Cove and more athletic fields throughout town.

A separate look at the costs and benefits of improved marine infrastructure is also needed, he suggested. “The opportunities are so big, we think the Town should do a study,” Dawe said. 

“Our next steps is adjust on what you folks tell us and what council thinks and be ready to submit our report by the end of December,” Dawe said.

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