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Jasper families protest closure of two popular tobogganing hills

Lifelong resident Bas Byrd, 28, and his son Atreyu Byrd, 5, at popular "Church Hill" tobogganing spot in Jasper, Alta. Courtesy: Christina Petluk-Byrd

Tobogganing is a thoroughly Canadian pastime, but the closure of two popular hills in a picturesque Alberta mountain town known for its winter attractions has left residents shaking their heads.

A few weeks ago, the town of Jasper made the decision to close two toboggan spots due to safety concerns. Signs appeared at Snape’s Hill and Church Hill, located on opposite ends of town.

Christina Petluk-Byrd’s husband Bas was born and raised in Jasper, and grew up sledding on Church Hill.

“He’s been going to that hill for over 20 years and we now take his son there every day, when the conditions are right, to get out in the winter,” Petluk-Byrd said. She said her five-year-old stepson Atreyu broke down when he learnt of the closure.

“He always looks forward to heading over to the sledding hill when we get off work, so he didn’t take the news well at all.”

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Lifelong resident Bas Byrd, 28, and his son Atreyu Byrd, 5, at popular “Church Hill” tobogganing spot in Jasper, Alta. Courtesy: Christina Petluk-Byrd

The town said the two sites were closed due to public safety concerns, and it was not a council decision. Petluk-Byrd said the town explained that the hills are a municipal liability, as both are near roads and there’s a risk of kids sliding out in front of cars. The closure was seen as a preventative measure.

“As far as I’ve heard from other parents, grandparents, long-term residents and peers who grew up on the hill, no one has ever been hurt or reached the road on Church Hill. Snape’s Hill does go more directly onto a quiet road, but they do make a snow barrier at that hill,” she explained.

Lifelong resident Bas Byrd, 28, and his son Atreyu Byrd, 5, at popular “Church Hill” tobogganing spot in Jasper, Alta.
Lifelong resident Bas Byrd, 28, and his son Atreyu Byrd, 5, at popular “Church Hill” tobogganing spot in Jasper, Alta. Courtesy: Christina Petluk-Byrd

Petluk-Byrd promised her stepson she’d do what she could to let them continue to use the hill, and launched a petition. On Monday she said at last count, it contained 270 signatures from community members.

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“This is Jasper! We are an outdoor sport town. We are a ski town, a mountain town; our kids grow up in the outdoors,” she said.

“It makes me sad to think the children are being limited to their play. Kids learn consequences and critical thinking through play. We can’t think for them, they need to learn cause and effect through play. I am hopeful they will see that though and realize closing the hills all-together is not a solution, but a harsh reaction and that there is other alternatives.”

Lifelong resident Bas Byrd, 28, and his son Atreyu Byrd, 5, at popular “Church Hill” tobogganing spot in Jasper, Alta. Courtesy: Christina Petluk-Byrd

A public information session with risk management consultant Doug Wyseman is being held Monday evening for the public to learn more about the decision behind the closure, and have an opportunity to ask questions.

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Two weeks ago families held a snarky send off for one of the hills – Petluk-Byrd called it a last-minute “hurrah” for the kids.

“A couple dozen kids and a few parents came to Snapes Hill and they had a afternoon of “everything-but” toboggan slide,” she explained. The kids slid past signs warning that tobogganing was prohibited.

“Kids used cardboard, pizza boxes, garbage bags, dog poop bags on their feet, and anything else that would go,” she said. Petluk-Byrd said parents brought food, hot chocolate and “bubble wrapped kids” cupcakes – a subtle protest of the closure.

“I’m hoping with the reaction over the past couple weeks they will reconsider and realize that this is for the kids and it’s good for families in the townsite to have something readily available for the kids to get out and be active!”

Lifelong resident Bas Byrd, 28, and his son Atreyu Byrd, 5, at popular “Church Hill” tobogganing spot in Jasper, Alta. Courtesy: Christina Petluk-Byrd

Global News reached out to the town of Jasper for comment, but as of publishing had not received a reply.

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Jasper is 350 kilometres west of Edmonton in the Rockies, and as of the 2011 federal census the population was 4,432.

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