A walk through the trees of Turner Park is a daily routine for Susan Gronau and her Husky-German Shepherd cross.
Gronau has lived in Fort Saskatchewan for 12 years. She was one of dozens of residents who packed council chambers Tuesday night (Oct.23) for a public hearing on a land use bylaw amendment that could bring some permanent changes to the green space Gronau has come to love.
City staff prepared the amendment to make way for a rezoning of a portion of Turner Park now home to the Fort Lions campground site and an adjacent undeveloped parcel of land. The bylaw establishes some new rules for how the land can be used, with the aim of allowing developments, including campgrounds, that support tourism and recreation in the park. The amended bylaw also removes the "temporary" label from the existing campground, officially giving it a permanent home after decades of use.
Council heard from 15 residents opposed to the amendment, including Gronau, before giving final approval to the bylaw on Tuesday.
A number of opponents told council they had no problem with the existing Lions campground – their bigger concern was its potential expansion. Some residents said they believed the rezoning would open the door for a campground expansion that could be an environmental disaster for the Turner Park ecosystem.
"I'd like to take this opportunity to explain the importance of the ageing forest that exists directly beside and above the Lions campground," Gronau told councillors.
"[The trees] provide shade and lower temperatures. They improve air quality by filtering dust and pollutants. They help reduce erosion of soil in our waterways. They also provide a wonderful home and sanctuary for numerous bird species, coyotes, beavers, fox, deer, moose and many other insects, wildlife, and plant species."
The trees are particularly important to the survival of pileated woodpeckers, Gronau said, pointing out that the birds are a keystone species in the park.
"This ageing forest has the perfect blend of food for these amazing birds."
Resident Mitsy Swanson noted that the city has set aside some natural area on the west side of Fort Saskatchewan – she asked council why Turner Park wasn’t being given the same consideration.
“I think that's what we're all fighting for here, is we want to save our parkland on our side of town, the one that we walk, the one that I walk every day," she said.
Kathy Braid, one of many opponents who live in the Old Fort area, told council she was concerned about campground traffic passing through the neighbourhood.
"The traffic coming up the hill, those large trailers coming up that hill, are a problem. And if we expand the campsite, there's going to be a much bigger problem."
Thomas Cockburn was one of three residents who spoke in support of the amendment, arguing that the campground would benefit the city as a whole and that other municipalities, including Devon, are home to much larger campgrounds.
"A river valley campground allows visitors to the Fort to enjoy our river valley. Other communities welcome us when we travel for pleasure or for work. We should welcome visitors to share our river valley."
Opponents also spoke about concerns with potential noise and drifting campfire smoke, along with issues surrounding long-term use of the site and a larger campground getting too close to backyards.
Fort Lions campground chair Don Westman said some of the concerns were rooted in false information. The idea that the Turner Park treed area is an “old growth forest” was not accurate he said, referring to a 1968 photograph of the park that shows open land that has since grown in with trees.
Any campfire smoke, he added, was coming from fire pits located on the side of the park operated by the city. The Lions site does not allow campers to have fires.
"Whether the campground is ever expanded or not, we think this move would be a very good move," he said of the amendment. "By changing this land use, that temporary designation will be gone once and for all. This does not mean that the campground must stay there indefinitely but the term "temporary" will be gone."