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Saving Manachaban Hill (Big Hill)

Rather than dwell on the development issues I would rather like to talk about a minimum disturbance development option that is personally more inspiring to me and I believe to future generations of Cochranites.

On Saturday (November 2nd) the Franciscans, through their Mount St. Francis Ad Hoc Committee (AHC), presented at an open house at the Lions Centre their preferred option for developing that portion of their lands on the flat bench of Big Hill as you enter Cochrane on Highway 1A.

Their presentation outlined three possible development options they were considering for the 140 acres of flat bench land half way up Big Hill. The three options included a preserved recreational park space with a trail and pathway network (Option 1), a partial residential development (Option 2) and a full residential build-out with some commercial components (Option 3).

The Franciscans/AHC are seeking support for an area development plan (ADP) which, when presented to Town Council for their endorsement, would provide the basis for future development on these lands. The AHC kept insisting that there are no specific development timelines but the point is that when and if (and I don’t believe there is an “if” option) development occurs it will be according to the ADP.

The Franciscans and their AHC insisted that developing this property wasn’t financially motivated yet presented material that ruled out Options 1 and 2 as uneconomic. This left Option 3 as the option that the AHC has selected. No indication was given of the size of this neighbourhood but 400+ homes built in a subdivision consisting of 100 acres of developable property and 40 acres of green space would be a reasonable estimation. At the open forum there was a strong and vocal opposition to the development in general. The main concern was access issues and traffic concerns, particularly since the shortest and quickest route from this new neighborhood would likely be past Sunterra and Cochrane Heights and on 4th Avenue creating yet another neighbourhood with traffic access and egress issues.

Rather than dwell on the development issues I would rather like to talk about a minimum disturbance development option that is personally more inspiring to me and I believe to future generations of Cochranites.

For 15 years and several thousand walks I have enjoyed the peace and tranquillity this area has offered. To me Big Hill and its environment is one of the most spectacular rural settings in Alberta overlooking the town of Cochrane, the foothills and the Rockies. While no significant historical artifacts have been uncovered, it is clear that Big Hill is an integral part of Cochrane’s heritage and of the First Nations People who frequented the banks of the Bow. This is really a place of peace and tranquillity which I know the Franciscans value and appreciate as much as I do. Placing a large residential community in the middle of this space seems at odds with this value.

We have a one-time opportunity to preserve this land in its pristine state for all future generations and with moderate recreational development (trails, etc.) to make it accessible and enjoyable for all. Nose Hill Park in Calgary provides an excellent example of recreational considerations trumping development dollars. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a state of the art Manachaban Heritage Park to the same standard as our Spray Lake Sawmill Family Sports Centre? And yes, here is an opportunity to incorporate a state of the art dog park for our four legged domestic friends.

Some of the lands (165 acres on Manachaban Hill and the ravine slope) were donated to the Franciscans by realtor Clair J. Cote back in 1949. If indeed, this development is not financially motivated than why not return the favour by donating this land back to the town to develop into a heritage park for current and future generations of Cochranites. On the other hand, if dollars are a key consideration, which I believe they likely are, then perhaps the Town of Cochrane should again be investing in our future much like they have done with our sports centre.

Manachaban is a heritage and historical site (officially or unofficially) , from Highway 1A to the top of the hill. We live in Big Hill Country and we need to preserve our most recognizable land mark, now and forever. We can’t get it back once it’s gone.

Darryl Butchko
Sunterra Heights