A sign of what could soon be a thing of the past. Plans and hopes are in motion to acquire funding to bring the Beaver Boardwalk back to its former glory. | S.Hayes photoScott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Aug 17, 2022 at 06:00

By Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Hinton might well be on the path to putting the Beaver Boardwalk’s maintenance woes to bed. 

On the heels of the Hinton Parks crew’s recent work to construct a new 34-metre section of the Beaver Boardwalk over a traditionally muddy area, Hinton town council met this week before publish time to decide on the prospect of a funding stream made available by the Forest Resource Industry Association of Alberta (FRIAA).

“Council will provide final approval with respect to those recommendations that came from the [Beaver Boardwalk Community Oversight Committee, or BBCOC], and then those recommendations will form a portion of the application for funding that will go in to FRIAA,” said Heather Waye, Hinton’s parks, recreation and culture manager.

The much-beloved local nature viewing and recreational spot has seen some ups and downs over the last several years, both in terms of its structural integrity and of the prospects of financing and completing repairs to it. 

Pedestrian visitors to the park will be well aware of multiple sections alternating between various states of functionality and passability throughout the three-kilometre trail system that was first opened in the Maxwell Lake marshland more than 15 years ago.

Creating the challenges is a combination of natural forces that includes the boardwalk’s namesake. 

“Over time, the pilings that are there – they’re wood – so they just started slouching with the frost heaves and changing of the seasons. Of course, we’re competing with nature’s engineers – the beaver – who like to pile up water on one side and flood out our boardwalk,” Waye said.

Keeping up with that maintenance was not originally the town’s responsibility. Beaver Boardwalk, conceived as a legacy gift from West Fraser Mills, was first stewarded by community volunteers. When they no longer had the capacity to manage the workload, the onus went to the town. 

Between 2018 and 2019, Hinton put up nearly $50,000 for the ongoing repairs, though maintenance was halted in the spring of 2019.

The Water Act changed, Waye noted, and application processes were different.

Late in 2020, the town was also successful in receiving a provincial Municipal Stimulus Program grant in the amount of $300,000.

A separate project on the Maxwell Lake bridge was begun but Alberta Environment and Parks regulations made officials press pause. Any and all work within the Maxwell Lake area came to a halt.

“We weren’t even able to maintain what was left,” Waye said. “It was two seasons of that as we went through the process to get our appropriate approvals to be working in the delicate wetland.”

Hinton received grant funding last year for trail connectivity. It decided to use a portion of that on the boardwalk.

Any construction or repair work on the Beaver Boardwalk is typically reserved for wintertime.

“We’re disturbing the wetland and the ecosystems less that way,” Waye said, adding that plans fell through because of conditions beyond their control.

“Ultimately, the ice thickness didn’t develop thick enough this past winter to allow us to get to be able to drive the heavy machinery we needed across the lake.”

Other work did get completed, however, including rehabilitation work on a section of the boardwalk at the Sutherland Avenue entrance. Waye confirmed that the area is now slightly wider and much more stable.

Recently, the town was contacted by a representative of the Forest Resource Improvement Association of Alberta. FRIAA offers project funding with twice-monthly intakes and a three-month approval schedule.

“Excellent news for me,” Waye said,

Working with the BBCOC, she has engaged the community to establish a vision for the future of the Beaver Boardwalk, while also conducting a condition analysis of various sections of the boardwalk itself. From that, a list of priority areas and a capital plan were established.

“As we were going through the prioritization exercise, we got the call from FRIAA, so we ramped things up.”

Accessing that funding means that Hinton needed to spend a little first. In consultation with the town’s chief administrative officer, she was able to secure funds from within the town’s operational budget to work with a consultant as a way of expediting FRIAA’s application process.

There are engineering estimates that need to be prepared, along with some environmental work that needs to be done. That, in turn, means liaising with Alberta Environment and Parks.

“In that way, the consultant is helping us be able to submit an application to FRIAA for approval much sooner than what we could do within our own capacity,” Waye said.

This week, Hinton town council will decide on providing approval to BBCOC’s recommendations, which will then form a portion of the application for funding that will go to FRIAA.

She ended by saying that regardless of what funding comes Hinton’s way, the Beaver Boardwalk won’t become overdeveloped. 

“We want to keep it as a bit of a backyard gem for our locals,” Waye said.

“It really does provide an opportunity for folks to interact with the land and the resources that surround us. Really, it helps with the nature deficit that is experienced by some as well. They like what they have, and they just want it all open and for it to be sustainable into the future.”

This item reprinted with permission from the Fitzhugh, Jasper, Alberta