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New Lake Banook plan recommends improvements to stay relevant for future events

Sophia Jensen of Canada paddles after winning silver in the women's C-1 500m during the ICF Canoe Sprint and Paracanoe World Championships at Lake Banook in Dartmouth, N.S., in 2022.  (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese - image credit)
Sophia Jensen of Canada paddles after winning silver in the women's C-1 500m during the ICF Canoe Sprint and Paracanoe World Championships at Lake Banook in Dartmouth, N.S., in 2022. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese - image credit)

Major upgrades could be coming to Dartmouth's popular Lake Banook in order to improve the surrounding area for use by local residents and to keep it relevant for future sporting events.

Municipal staff presented the new Lake Banook co-ordination plan to HRM's community planning and economic development committee on Thursday. It's based on previous master plans of the lake as well as feedback from the canoe-kayak community.

The plan includes improving water quality, accessibility, signs, and creating new swimming access points on the Prince Albert Road side of the lake.

It also suggests adding better WiFi and water hookups to Henry Findlay Park, at the bottom of the lake near Sullivans Pond, to become the designated site for athlete villages.

"It's not just a lake, it's also a sporting venue — and all these other places around the world have been doing all these kinds of upgrades and we haven't," Coun. Sam Austin said during the meeting.

Austin, whose district includes the lake, said he's been told by the people behind Canoe '22 that Banook has coasted on its past reputation as an excellent natural canoe-kayak racing course — but  "unless we up our game, this could be the last event of this scale we host."

Coun. Sam Austin represents Dartmouth Centre. (Preston Mulligan/CBC)

Canoe '22 hosted the Canoe Sprint and Paracanoe World Championships in 2022 on Lake Banook, which saw thousands of athletes and spectators descend on the lake.

Austin said the changes to Findlay Park make sense, but not all residents will be happy that it likely means moving the "very well-used" park playground elsewhere.

Tim Rissesco, a Canoe '22 board member, said the group hopes to help fund a replacement playground in the area.

He added that having the athletes' village at Findlay Park was a big hit during the world championships, compared to its former location at nearby Birch Cove Park. Findlay Park is more level, which allowed para-athletes to be in the same space, Rissesco said, and it was "more lively" to have the athletes alongside spectators on Prince Albert Road.

The plan on the heels of other recent improvements at the lake, including the new judges' tower, upgrades to Banook Canoe Club, and HRM's new Kiwanis Grahams Grove Community Building.

"It's a great time for the sport and a great time for the lake," Rissesco said.

Water quality issues remain a "significant risk" to the recreational and sporting use of the lake, the plan said. Banook has been closed multiple times in the past few summers due to high levels of bacteria.

Although this is a priority in the plan, Rissesco said he'd like to see more specific details soon from the city about how to tackle the issue.

Some improvements to Birch Cove Park could make a difference with water quality.

The plan suggests adding more naturalized areas in the park by enhancing the landscape with native plants and trees, and adding sections of living shoreline to filter contaminants from runoff entering the water and to deter the large numbers of waterfowl.

On Wednesday, the committee voted to send the plan to regional council, where it will be voted on.

If council approves the plan, staff said public engagement sessions could be held this year before any final decisions are made.

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