Parkland County residents petition for barrier along trail's cliff after 2 men, dog recently fall

Some concerned Parkland County residents are petitioning to have fencing installed along a section of a trail where there is a steep cliff, from which two people and two dogs have fallen.

James Fenwick fell off the cliff and died while trying to rescue his dog

A Parkland County resident has resorted to mounting their own warning signs along a popular trail with a cliff that several people and pets have fallen from. (Emily Fitzpatrick/CBC)

UPDATE: On Aug. 10, a Parkland County spokesperson said signs are being put up to notify visitors of the danger in the area. As well, snow fencing is being installed at an accident site, and barriers are being placed at the trailhead.

"These are temporary measures that will be in place as the county develops a long-term plan," the spokesperson said in an emailed statement. "Parkland County is currently reviewing these incidents to determine the best course of action."

The county doesn't maintain any formal trails in the area but recognizes that the area is attractive to visitors for walking or hiking, the statement said.

Some concerned Parkland County residents are petitioning to have fencing installed along a section of a trail where there is a steep cliff, from which two people and two dogs have fallen.

A trail that runs along the Pembina River, often used for tubing, has increased in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic. A section of the trail is open from the surrounding bush and appears to be a lookout of sorts. But those unfamiliar with the path could end up walking off the steep cliff. 

"To make two-lane traffic, you're hugging that edge," said Candace Eden.

"It just takes one little bump of tubers, or one little kid's wrong step, and there's no saving [you]. You're going down that cliff."

James Fenwick, 42, was camping in an area nearby the trail last month, when he decided to take his dogs to cross the river. One was on a leash, the other was not.

James Fenwick, 42, died trying to rescue his dog Daytona. (James Fenwick/Facebook)

"When he came around the corner, he noticed she was gone," said Eden, Fenwick's sister.

The dog off-leash had fallen down the cliff, landing on a piece of rock about five metres down. Seeing her sent Fenwick into a panic and he tried to rescue his dog, but he fell too and died, Eden said.

"It's so steep and so dangerous," she said. "Everybody at the top of the cliff had no way of getting down."

The RCMP officers who arrived on scene couldn't get to Fenwick from where he fell, nor could STARS air ambulance. They each had to go around to the other side of the river first, she said.

A dog had fallen of the same cliff about a year ago, suffering broken legs.

But another man has fallen off the cliff since Fenwick did — though he managed to walk away from the incident.

The cliff above the Pembina River is about 30 metres high. (Emily Fitzpatrick/CBC)

Hearing of the latter incident is triggering, Eden said.

"I don't want anybody to ever go through what my family had to go through," she said.

Fenwick's family has since started a petition calling on Parkland County to visit the site and install safety measures, such as a barrier or signage warning about the cliffs.

County resident Cindy Wyrozub, who lives along the trail, could see the STARS air ambulance crew try to save Fenwick. In a letter to her councillor, she described watching the first responders send his body across the river in a body bag so they could get it to the helicopter.

"Absolutely the worst thing I could have ever witnessed," she wrote. "I felt devastated for days because I wished I had pushed harder to have that cliff secured."

Many people now use the trail to get to the Pembina River to go tubing. There's about 100 trail visitors every day now, Wyrozub told CBC News.

Snow fencing has been installed along a cliff edge bordering the Pembina River. (Submitted by Cindy Wyrozub)

After Fenwick fell, Wyrozub hung caution tape around the opening to the cliff, but it was torn down. She is now resorting to mounting her own warning signs — despite not technically being allowed because it's county land.

It has been a month since Wyrozub wrote to the county, but she hasn't heard back.

CBC News reached out to the area councillor for comment, but they did not immediately respond.

"This is an awful thing to see in my backyard. It's an awful that's happening," said Wyrozub. "I just really, really need somebody to work with me.

"We need to make that trail safe."

The cliff is sandstone and not incredibly stable, so an engineer would have to inspect the site before proceeding with installing a fence or barrier.

Cindy Wyrozub, seen here standing next to her husband, has tried contacting Parkland County to take action, but has not heard back since reaching out a month ago. (Emily Fitzpatrick/CBC)

In the meantime, the county may have 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, that likely can't happen.

Fenwick's family hope something is done because it would give them peace of mind that others will be safe, Eden said.

With files from Emily Fitzpatrick, Nicholas Frew and CBC's Radio Active


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