July 12, 2017 | Barb Livingstone
Acreage appealCalgary-area rural communities offer residents a quiet retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city
As a former farm kid, four-time Canadian bareback champion, and former Calgary Stampede rodeo and chuckwagon manager, Robin Burwash has spent almost every day of his life enjoying the rural-lifestyle dream he now sells as a REALTOR®.
When he talks of finding space and relaxation amidst the trees and hills of acreage properties around Calgary, it comes from personal experiences.
Burwash spent 16 years as a professional bareback rider, and grew up on a farm that eventually became part of the city, not far off of Country Hills Boulevard.
During the years he spent working in Calgary with the Stampede, the best moment of his 45-minute commute to his Black Diamond acreage, he says, was crossing the city limits and entering the wide-open space of the country.
That love of space is echoed by Allison Wright, who grew up on a Springbank acreage and now lives on a 60-acre property near Cochrane.
Wright, the Calgary Stampede midway programming manager, was five when her family moved from Silver Springs to a property that was, at the time, "far away from the city.
"We immediately got horses," she said. "My dad liked being in the outdoors and it was safe."
She returned to Calgary for university and, with her husband, built a home in Tuscany.
But acreage living drew them back, first to Springbank, and then to the Cochrane land they now share with horses, dogs, cats and llamas.
"I love the space, the horses are close by and we have amazing views," she said. "Seeing the mountains is key."
For her two children, growing up without close neighbours meant learning independence – "to be creative, to explore, to spend time with the animals. And we spent more time with them. When they did get together with friends, the time shared was more focused."
Wright also ran the Stampede's acreage lifestyle show for several years, helping people transition from urban to rural living.
"It is about making sure you are prepared for the differences," she said. "In the country, when you run out of milk, you spend a day without milk. Access to services is just not the same."
She became a "do-it-yourselfer" by necessity, putting up and repairing fences, and figuring out how to manage the well and fix a door.
"I love the space, the horses are close by and we have amazing views. Seeing the mountains is key." - Allison Wright, Cochrane-area acreage homeowner
And while the great beauty of an acreage property is "it is less crowded," this can also be its greatest downside, if buyers aren't prepared for greater isolation.
Burwash, who now lives southwest of Nanton, sees many professionals in their 30s and up who were raised in rural areas and want to now offer that lifestyle to their children.
They continue to work in the city, and generally don't want horses or a hobby farm, but simply that buffer between neighbours.
"Privacy is a big thing," he said
But buyers also need to be realistic. "Some want trees, mountains, running water – all within walking distance to shops," said Burwash. "Those things are not cheap."
Prices depend on how close the acreage is to Calgary, but generally fall in the range of $350,000 to $550,000 for three acres.
Many properties will not have municipal services, such as a septic tank and well replacing water with sewer services to the door. That long driveway to the nearest road is the homeowners' responsibility to shovel whenever it snows. If horses are on the property, determine animal bylaw restrictions (generally, one horse for every three acres) and whether the property supports grazing (if not, hay will be an additional expense).
Burwash says more people are also purchasing outlying land as an alternative investment to the stock market, and as retirement property.
He predicts that the increased accessibility that will be provided by the completed Southwest Calgary Ring Road will make the Millarville and Priddis area even more popular for those seeking the rural lifestyle.
For Wright, with a son off at university and a daughter in high school, downsizing may be on the horizon, but that doesn't mean she's ready to give up her acreage life.
"I think if we ever downsize, it will still be on an acreage. Your neighbours aren't right on your doorstep," she said. "We did that (already), and it wasn't bad – just not what we wanted."
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