Kneehill County is exploring plans to develop a camping facility on the rim of their recently purchased Horseshoe Canyon.
The county and private landowners of the Drumheller region finalized over two and a half years of negotiations late last month, and Kneehill became the sole owner of the canyon and surrounding land, adding to their existing ownership of the parking area.
Reeve Bob Long said Kneehill County had found itself in a position to take full control of the site and move forward on plans to enhance and develop the canyon as a tourist attraction.
There are 38 acres of land on the rim of the canyon which may be developed into camping facilities. Plans are in the works to enhance and develop walking trails to the canyon floor, while implementing erosion control methods to manage paths which could be “treacherous” at times, he said.
“From our perspective, it was an iconic region and we saw value in what we’d like to do there,” Reeve Long said.
“We had been looking around to develop some type of campground facility and it was one of the locations we had discussed. Obviously because of tourism in the Drumheller valley, having something in the area would be desirable to us. Then this property became available. I think it was the right choice, the right location – it has so much to offer from a tourist perspective.”
He said the county had been looking at ways of benefitting from tourism after the downturn in the oil and gas industry.
“We have to diversify our base and tourism is one of the areas we felt we could engage it, so this kind of fit into that overall plan. We never thought starting out that Horseshoe Canyon was the site we’d end up with because it was privately owned.”
“From a tourist perspective, it is one of the first sites people get of the badlands in a lot of cases, but it is also a very popular location.”
Development planning for Horseshoe Canyon has been turned over to Kneehill’s parks department, which will develop plans further and likely bring a budget and framework back to county council in the fall, Long said.
Previously, access to the canyon was given to the public on good will from the previous owners, but liability issues with the site led both the county and the landowners to come to an agreement where the county would assume full responsibility for the attraction.
The canyon was purchased at a fair market price based on surrounding lands for an unreleased amount, which will be disclosed in financial statements this year, Long said.
Agreements are in place with the previous owners prohibiting development at the canyon bottom itself.
The Horseshoe Canyon parking area was originally under Kneehill County control through a long-term lease until the management of the property was turned over to Alberta Parks and Recreation in 1986. When the province made plans to privatize or close the parking area in 1998, Kneehill County entered into a partnership with the Town of Drumheller for maintenance. Kneehill County re-assumed ownership of the parking lot in 2008.
The Horseshoe Canyon Conservation Area will continue to be held by the Nature Conservancy of Canada.