Some concerned Parkland County residents are asking for fences to be put up along a section of a trail where there is a steep cliff, where two people and two dogs have fallen.
A trail along the Pembina River, often used for tubing, gained popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic. A section of the trail is open from the surrounding bush and appears to be a sort of lookout. But those who don’t know the path might end up descending the steep cliff.
“To do two-lane traffic, you hug that edge,” Candace Eden said.
“It just takes a little tuber bump, or a little child’s misstep, and there’s no saving [you]. You come down that cliff. “
James Fenwick, 42, was camping in an area near the trail last month when he decided to take his dogs across the river. One was kept on a leash, the other was not.
“When he got around the corner he noticed she was gone,” Fenwick’s sister Eden said.
The off-leash dog had fallen off the cliff, landing on a piece of rock about five meters deep. Seeing her panicked Fenwick and he tried to save his dog, but he also fell and died, Eden said.
“It’s so steep and so dangerous,” she said. “Everyone at the top of the cliff had no way down.”
RCMP officers who arrived at the scene were unable to get to Fenwick from where he fell, nor could the STARS air ambulance. They had to cross the river first, she said.
A dog had fallen from the same cliff about a year ago, suffering from broken legs.
But another man fell off the cliff from Fenwick – although he managed to get away from the incident.
The hearing of this latest incident is about to trigger, Eden said.
“I don’t want anyone to go through what my family has had to go through,” she said.
Fenwick’s family have since started a petition calling on the County of Parkland to visit the site and put up safety measures, such as a barrier or signage warning of the cliffs.
County resident Cindy Wyrozub, who lives along the trail, could see the STARS air ambulance crew attempting to save Fenwick. In a letter to her advisor, she described seeing first responders send her body across the river in a body bag so they could transport it to the helicopter.
“Absolutely the worst thing I have ever witnessed,” she wrote. “I felt devastated for days because I wish I had pushed harder to secure this cliff.”
Many people now use the trail to get to the Pembina River for tubing. There are about 100 visitors a day now, Wyrozub told CBC News.
After Fenwick fell, Wyrozub hung warning tape around the cliff opening, but it was demolished. It is now resorting to installing its own warning signs – although it is technically not allowed as this is county territory.
It has been a month since Wyrozub wrote to the county, but she has not received a response.
CBC News reached out to the regional adviser for comment, but they did not immediately respond.
“It’s a terrible thing to see in my backyard. It’s terrible what’s going on,” Wyrozub said. “I just really, really need someone to work with me.
“We have to make this trail safe.”
The cliff is sandstone and is not incredibly stable, so an engineer should inspect the site before proceeding with the installation of a fence or barrier.
In the meantime, the county may need to consider installing more signage or closing the trail all together, she said.
Wyzorub noted that the Pembina River is low this summer, so first responders can rescue people on the riverbank. If the water level rises, this probably cannot happen.
Fenwick’s family are hopeful that something will be done as it will give them peace of mind that the others will be safe, Eden said.