A hotspot for dog walkers and people taking a stroll in Black Diamond’s south side has been shut down to protect seniors.
Westwinds Communities and the Town of Black Diamond recently collaborated to install fencing and signage that restricts access to the green space north of the High Country Lodge and Glen Mead Park - near Oilfields General Hospital - to reduce the exposure of COVID-19 to tenants and residents.
The fencing went up in early May and information was posted on the Westwinds and Town of Black Diamond websites. Letters were distributed to seniors in both facilities regarding the property’s closure to the public.
“We cannot have people come through the property,” said Westwinds Communities chief administrative officer Lauren Ingalls. “If our seniors get COVID-19 it results in fatalities. We need to make sure all of the seniors are protected.”
Ingalls said the fencing went up after Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, relaxed restrictions at seniors’ facilities, allowing visitors at assisted living facilities as long as they wear masks and remain outdoors.
“People need to let our seniors have visitors and enjoy that small bit of freedom,” she said. “This is their backyard. We need people to stay out of it.”
While the rules were established for assisted living facilities, Ingalls said they also apply to seniors living in Glen Mead because they share property.
“As far as the grounds are concerned, we have to enforce the same rules as the lodge because there’s no separate fencing,” she said. “Glen Mead, as far as external visitors and traffic on the site, has to follow the lodge guidelines.”
High Country Lodge has 38 supported living seniors and Glen Mead has close to 50 independent living seniors.
Ingalls said while Westwinds staff is happy to accommodate the public by allowing them access to the green space, this is one of those times when it doesn’t work.
“The only place for the seniors to walk unmasked is on our property so we don’t want dog walkers and people walking through the site,” she said. “It’s absolutely important that they’re respectful of the fact that most of our seniors have chronic conditions and if they contract COVID-19 there are very serious circumstances for them. This is the only freedom they have.”
While Ingalls said she’s unaware of anyone accessing the fenced-off greenspace since the signs went up in early May, Black Diamond Coun. Brian Marconi told council at its May 6 meeting that he’s concerned people aren’t abiding by the rules.
In an interview with the Western Wheel, Marconi said he spoke with one man who told him he was accessing the site to walk his dog despite the temporary closure.
In addition, a fence post on the north side of Glen Mead was recently pushed over, he said.
“It’s obvious that people are walking through there still,” he said. “There’s people who just feel because it’s provincial property they have a right to access it.”
Marconi said Westwinds is a provincial management company that operates the lodge on provincial property and has a right to refuse the public access.
“All we can do is advise our residents to not walk through it, but there will always be people who don’t listen and just do what they want to do,” he said. “There’s been signs before and people ignored them.”
Sharlene Brown, Black Diamond’s chief administrative officer, said the post could have been moved by either an animal or person, and added that she feels the public is complying with the new rules.
“People have been compliant,” she said. “The Town has foot patrols going in and around the area.”
While the area is a popular site for people strolling and walking their dogs, Brown said they must take the rules seriously until the pandemic has been contained.
“Historically, it’s always been an area where people have taken liberties, although it’s private property, to use that land for strolling or walking their dogs,” she said. “Just due to the vulnerable population within our community we wanted to make sure, working in partnership with Westwinds, that we’re asking people to stay off of those lands so that the seniors can actually enjoy the outdoors in a safe environment.”
For updated information, follow our COVID-19 special section for the latest local and national news on the coronavirus pandemic, as well as resources, FAQs and more.