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Cochrane survey shows high demand for Bow River recreation

The results of a survey commissioned by the Cochrane River Wave Park Steering Committee indicate there is a high amount of interest in recreational use of the Bow River.

There is a lot of interest in recreational use of the Bow River.

At least, that's the overall sentiment among the 2,000 respondents of a survey commissioned by the Cochrane River Wave Park Steering Committee. 

Over 2,000 responses were received through the survey, which was available through a public domain to Cochrane residents and non-residents from July 27 to Sept. 15. 

The results found 75 per cent of people want to use the river for recreational purposes, with more locals strongly or somewhat against a river wave park than those who strongly or somewhat support it by a margin of three per cent.

The wave park was an idea the Cochrane Tourism Association proposed last November. Including feedback from non-residents, the interest in developing a river wave park outweighed those in opposition, indicating a potential tourism asset. 

The association's executive director and co-chair of the Steering Committee, Jo-Anne Oucharek, said the survey is the first step in a longer-term public engagement process.

"We have a lot of information that we've gathered from the community, and now, really, it's a decision of what do we want this to look like?" she said. "How do we give the community what they want?"

About 60 per cent of respondents expressed interest in expanding recreational opportunities on the Bow, through a wide-range of activities such as nature watching, casual floating, downriver paddling, and fishing. Each of those options outweighed the interest in river-wave riding. 

Survey-takers were also able to choose up to five factors they think should be taken into consideration for the premise of building a river wave park. About 70 per cent expressed a need to consider environmental protections, 69.3 per cent said wildlife preservation needs to be part of the conversation, while 54.4 per cent and 52.3 per cent, respectively, expressed concerns over traffic/parking and safety. 

Four per cent of survey respondents said they wish to keep the river in its natural state.

"We identified when we did the feasibility study that environmental protection and fish and wildlife preservation and all of those things would need to be addressed," said Oucharek.

"There are many levels of government and different organizations that are involved. So really, we're still at the idea stage and now that we have some feedback from the community, it's just basically looking at the results from the study and identifying how those next steps can be developed."

Next steps include looking for and securing available grants for further studies that may be required, she added. While the results of the survey will help orchestrate plans for next steps, further investigation is needed to determine what's feasible based on the wants of the people.

"There's a lot of people who say they already use the river which also includes activities beside the river, like walking, and there's a lot of people that want better access to the river," Oucharek said. "On the other side of it, there's lots of people who want it to stay the way it is.

"As the community grows, especially with COVID, access to recreation is really important and it's been very interesting to see some of the information coming out about recreation and how the Province and federal government are going to support helping to increase recreation in general."

The results of the survey landed in every respondent's inbox last week to help ensure transparency during the public engagement process, according to Oucharek.

The report can also be found at cochraneriverwavepark.com

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