Nelson’s dog park came about because of a civic mistake. Photo: Donna Macdonald

Nelson’s dog park came about because of a civic mistake. Photo: Donna Macdonald

ABOUT NELSON: The mishap that led to Nelson’s lakeside dog park

Donna Macdonald writes about the history behind civic projects

by Donna Macdonald

Swallows dip and swoop near Davis Bridge at the mouth of Cottonwood Creek. I’m reading a sign I’ve never noticed before. It says I have 1,500 steps or 1.2 kilometres to reach my destination, the parking lot at the Prestige Lakeside Resort.

Then I’ll walk back again, hopefully before the next rainstorm arrives. Of course, that walking distance is only accurate if I go directly to my destination, which I won’t. I’ll be tempted from the straight-and-narrow.

It only takes about three steps before I’m reminded that this section of Nelson’s waterfront pathway is an off-leash area for dogs. A smallish pup is the first of many to approach, sniff my leg, and immediately move on to more interesting smells. I’m not a dog person so I’m practising tolerance today. And caution!

As I walk, I remember being a rookie city councillor in the early 1990s, determined that Nelson should have a continuous pathway along our shoreline. We’ve almost accomplished that, and every time I walk the pathway I think it has to be the best-used recreation amenity in Nelson. We humans love being near water, especially on a level path.

Five times as I walk along the straight pathway, I see a side path inviting me to explore a promontory that extends into the lake. Each one offers benches and picnic tables, big rocks to climb, and new views along the lake. In between them lie sweet little sandy beaches.

You might assume these are natural features. But I remember well how they came to be. In the 1990s the pressure for new playing fields was intense, so the city decided to start filling in the bay between the existing Lakeside Park fields and the mall, as fill material became available. Little by little we imagined a field emerging.

Then one day, a fogged-in Castlegar airport diverted a small jet to land in Nelson. As it circled, everyone admired the views of our little city, except the two officials from Fisheries and Oceans Canada. They were horrified to see material being dumped in the lake.

A meeting with the city was quickly convened, including me as chair of the parks committee. The officials explained that DFO was responsible for fish habitat on the lake, and what did we think we were doing? If we wanted to continue with our filling, we would first have to hire biologists to sample the pond for fish, inventory the plant life that sustained them, and determine how much habitat we were destroying. Yikes.

I eventually asked what would happen if we just accepted that we were destroying fish habitat. Then, they said, you have to make more. No net loss of habitat was the policy. And so those points and bays were designed and constructed along the airport path and also along the new playing fields, primarily to create fish habitat and make the officials happy.

Now we have interesting nooks and crannies where humans can explore, and fish and ducks can rest and nest, swim and feed. And the dogs: why, they’re in heaven.

As I complete my return trip, I realize I only saw two piles of dog poop. I expect that’s due to a clean-up campaign by responsible dog-lovers and I thank them. I got to look around and enjoy the sights, instead of watching my feet.

Next month, more About Nelson as I walk 2,500 steps from the Prestige to Lakeside Park.