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Because of the issue of the requirement for an off-leash dog park, the use of James Cockburn park for that purpose has come under scrutiny.  Council rightly decided that they needed to better understand the whole background of this park so asked staff to report on the subject.  This includes the recent renewal of the lease agreement for another 20 years (from 2011). This report will be presented at the Council Meeting on December 2nd, 2013 and is therefore included in the Agenda for the meeting.  Since it provides a lot of useful information on the park, the staff report is reproduced in full below.

Report by Staff to Council re James Cockburn Park

Format edited for clarity

Background

James Cockburn parkPhoto by Northumberland TodayAt present Cobourg Conservation Area [James Cockburn Park - photo right] is leased by the Town from the Ganaraska Conservation Authority. The Park is just over 31 acres in size.  A major feature of the area is the presence of the West and East branches of Cobourg Creek (locally known as Factory Creek) which have their confluence near the south end of the properly. The area is generally flat and as a result, most of the site is prone to flooding. A weir/dam located above the confluence which forms an elongated wetland along the West branch of Cobourg Creek. This area was formally a pond but has since been drained as a management technique to allow regeneration of the site.

Prior to its acquisition in 1971, the United Counties of Durham and Northumberland owned the area. From 1965 until 1971, the property was operated by the Rotary Club of Cobourg. The GRCA acquired the property in 1971 as a conservation area.

It was named The Honourable James Cockburn Centennial Gardens, September 17, 1967 by the Archaeological and Historic Sites Board of Ontario as part of Canada's Centennial Year dedications in conjunction with the Cobourg Rotary Club.

In 1971 the Ganaraska Region Conservation Authority (GRCA) acquired the area from the United Counties of Durham and Northumberland and changed the name to Cobourg Conservation Area. On June 27, 1973 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal Highness, Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh, officially opened and renamed the Cobourg Conservation Area at which time the Queen unveiled the cairn.

The General Manager, Gayle Hall and representatives from the Town of Cobourg negotiated the lease. The original lease was signed May 29, 1990 and was for a 20 year term beginning January 1, 1991. The lease would automatically renew for a further 20 years unless either party gave 30 days written notice that the agreement was not to be renewed.
No official notice was sent by either party prior to the 2011 renewal.

The 2002 Management Plan for the Cobourg Conservation Area lists the uses as Bike Paths and trails, Jogging, Group and family activities, Rest and relaxation, Sports, Frisbee, Picnicking, Nature walking and Dog Walking. The 2002 plan also noted the area contained an old baseball field, two soccer pitches as well as fitness trail equipment on the west side of the creek all of which were installed by the town in previous years.

One of the goals of Conservation Authorities is provide opportunities for the public to enjoy, learn from and respect Ontario's Natural environment. Through the lands Cobourg owns and manages we are able to provide opportunities for individuals to understand and appreciate the value of their natural environment as well as social and economic benefits of protecting that environment. Cobourg Conservation area is one of 9 Conservation Areas owned by the Ganaraska Region Conservation Authority. The goal of the GRCA's lands are to provide the people with opportunities to experience leisure time activities which are in harmony with and which have a minimized impact on the natural environment and illustrate good land management techniques.

In the current lease, section 3 states that Cobourg.... Shall comply with all governmental requirements.

From the Conservation Authorities Act - From R.R.O. 1990, Regulations 105

ANIMALS

10. (1) No person shall bring an animal other than a dog or cat into the conservation area except under a permit issued by the Authority. R.R.O. 1990, Reg. 105,s. 10(1).
(2) No person who owns or controls an animal shall permit the animal to,

(a) make excessive noise or disturb other persons;
(b) enter water designated for wading, bathing or swimming or be on the beach adjacent to that water; or
(c) be at large,

in the conservation area. R.R.O. 1990, Reg. 105, s. 10 (2).
(3) For the purposes of clause (2) (c), an animal that is secured by a leash more than two metres long shall be considered to be at large. R.R.O. 1990, Reg. 105, s. 10(3).
(4) No person shall ride or lead a horse or similar animal in the conservation area, except on a highway or other place designated by the Authority, or leave a horse or similar animal in a location where it is likely to cause danger or inconvenience to other persons. R.R.O. 1990, Reg. 105, s. 10 (4).
(5) Despite clause (2) (c), a person may use or be accompanied by a dog that is not secured by a leash while hunting or training within the meaning of the Game and Fish Act if,

(a) hunting or training is permitted in the conservation area; and
(b) the person complies with the Game and Fish Act and the regulations under that Act. R.R.O. 1990, Reg. 105, s. 10 (5).

Since the master plan update in 2002, the GRCA completed new signage, created a rocky ramp/fishway for approximately $12,000.00, completed a bioengineered crib wall for bank stabilization, provided tree planting with GRCA staff in partnership with local youth groups and OFAH, capital works on the Cairn to re-point it, garbage cleanup along the riverbank every spring and ongoing monitoring of fishing activities and environmental monitoring as well as flood monitoring.

The Town has at various times under the terms of the lease built and maintained baseball and soccer fields, various paths, bridges and exercise stations and mowed grass and planted and pruned trees and other vegetation. Historically the paths from James Cockburn park have connected to other paths leading to destinations within the town. In some cases these paths have been abandoned or grown over.

In more recent years the park has been used more as a passive park and dog owners have dominated use, with off leash dogs becoming a prominent fixture. In various consultations with other historic users there does seem to be some concerns that the prominence of off leash dogs has discouraged other users from use of the park. In particular the last organized sports group to use the park was the soccer club , the dogs issue was stated as a significant reason for no longer using the park.

The issue of the process to grant use of the park has been discussed. Article 8 clearly states that Cobourg shall be responsible to issue permits for sports playing, booking of group events, family picnics etc. This authority comes with three caveats:

a) No permanent buildings or alterations of the property can occur without previous GRCA approval. (article 4,5)
b) Use shall comply with all governmental requirements (article 3) This must include GRCA regulations.
c)In the event of a dispute on any items in the agreement Arbitration shall occur as per Article 11.

At present there remains soccer goal posts installed although organized soccer has not used the area in a few years due to conflicts with other uses. One of those uses has been as an off leash dog area, which has never been officially endorsed by the town or the GRCA, but has become a dominant use.

The agreement contains one inaccuracy which is a minor item that should be cleaned up in the Agreement is in article 6 where Cobourg creek is incorrectly identified as Ganaraska River. It is recommended that Article 13 be used to correct the description.

Article 13 indicates that notwithstanding the articles of the agreement, modifications of the agreement may be made by mutual consent.

The GRCA Board has over the last few years become aware and uncomfortable with this use of the park and have required the town to enforce its bylaw and the GRCA's bylaw regarding animals off leash. At the latest full Authority Meeting held on September 19th 2013, the following Motion was passed by the GRCA Board:

"WHEREAS the Cobourg Conservation Area is intended as a passive recreation area for all users, and;
WHEREAS Regulation 105/90 as enabled by the Conservation Authorities ACT requires dogs to be on leash at all times while in Conservation Areas:

THERFORE be it resolved
THAT the Full Authority does not support the use of the Cobourg Conservation Area as an off-lease dog park and;
FURTHER THAT Full Authority request the Town of Cobourg to increase by- law enforcement in the Cobourg Conservation Area."

In the meantime the Town has recognized for some time that an official dog park is needed, and has been investigating options on and off for the last four years. Many towns and cities have been struggling with this issue, the criteria for locating a dog park needs to be better understood as there are many lingering questions the town does not have adequate answers for.

For example:

  • What is appropriate separation between the dog park and residential property?
  • What is appropriate buffering between the dog park and residences?
  • What control could the town have on hours of operations, number of dogs present at one time, noise and conflicts etc.
  • What level of maintenance would be appropriate to mow and maintain, clean up and remove feces?

Given that the Town and the GRCA have deferred their commitment to enforcing the by-law starting March 31st 2014, the issue of off leash dogs will become more urgent and the town should devote some energy to find an appropriate alternative before spring 2014.

Finacial Implication

None at this time

Conclusion

That Council supports the recommendation to continue with the existing lease of James Cockburn Park from the GRCA and that the correction in Article 6 to the name of the Creek be made and that further uses of the park be considered within the framework of that lease agreement.

++++++++++++++++++

Comments

The report does not talk about alternatives for a Dog Park but it would seem that the status quo is unacceptable.  If off-leash dogs are allowed in this park, they would have to be in a fenced off area.  In any event, it looks like Bill Watson wants to buy some time to figure out what to do although he realizes the deadline is Spring 2014.

Update Dec 2, 2013

At the meeting of the Committee of the whole Council meeting, the report was approved.  Further, it was agreed that a public meeting wil now be called of all interested groups in the town so that an agreement can be reached on what the park should be used for.

It was clear that that the idea of a dog park here has not died.  It is likely that GRCA will approve the establishment of a separate, fenced-off dog park in James Cockburn Park until such time as a permanent park can be found in Cobourg.  GRCA do not want a dog park here for fear it will create a precedent so other municipalities in their jurisdiction will want the same.  Currently, there are no dog parks in the GRCA controlled areas.

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