Friday, 07 April 2017 08:00

Province announces funding to pave highway to the Castle

Written by  Dave Mabell
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A paved highway and a fresh water supply will soon welcome visitors to the Castle Mountain Resort and the province’s new Castle River provincial parks.

Engineers’ planning for $20-million worth of projects will begin shortly, says Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips. Paving Highway 774 to the ski hill will follow next year.
Speaking in Lethbridge, the minister said the work will also include a $4.7-million potable water pipeline between Beaver Mines and Cowley, backed by both the provincial and federal governments.
“These projects will create jobs and support the local economy in southwestern Alberta,” she said.
“They will also bring more visitors to the Castle parks to experience the natural beauty of the Crown of the Continent.”
Phillips said the infrastructure projects come in addition to the government’s commitment to spend $20 million in first-phase improvements to the two Castle-area parks. Castle Provincial Park will offer upgraded facilities along both sides of Highway 774, while the Castle Wilderness Provincial Park — stretching along the Rocky Mountains from Waterton Lakes National Park to an area close to Crowsnest Pass communities — will provide backcountry experiences.
The highway’s 11-kilometre gravel section will be rebuilt as a paved road next year, Phillips said, at a cost of $6 million. Another $9 million is being provided to help the M.D. of Pincher Creek build a water line from Beaver Mines to the Castle resort.
Brad Bush, the resort’s general manager, described the highway upgrade as “an essential piece to ensuring that all Albertans can access recreational activities in the Castle Parks region in a safe, reliable and enjoyable manner.
“The decision is consistent with Alberta Parks’ mandate to improve the life of all Albertans through access to recreation,” he said.
The water line, Bush pointed out, will allow the ski resort to make greater use of its snow-making equipment, while providing a secure supply for residents and a growing number of visitors.
It will also accelerate the resort’s plans to become a year-round attraction, he predicted.
Speaking for the municipal district, Reeve Brian Hammond thanked Phillips for her department’s ongoing consultation with local officials on park development.
The M.D. council has been urging the paving project for many years, Hammond added, but previous governments never responded.
Responding to questions, Phillips said visitors shouldn’t expect to see park upgrades this summer. The public consultation process is still underway, she explained.
What visitors will see, the minister indicated, is the same level of increased stewardship and enforcement as last year in the Castle area. RCMP officers, fish and wildlife officers, park rangers, conservation officers and M.D. bylaw officers will be ensuring parks regulations are respected.
Across the province, about 80,000 “contacts” were made with provincial park visitors — leading to about 7,000 fines levied against transgressors.
Those enforcement efforts cost about $10 million, Phillips said — money she’d rather see go into park improvements and added the previous governments did little to keep provincial parks properly maintained.
Southern Albertans need a protected area where they can go hiking, camping, fishing and hunting, Phillips said.
Asked about her department’s new energy efficiency initiatives, the minister said about 80,000 Albertans have already signed up for no-charge energy-saving audits of their homes.
“It’s surpassed all our expectations,” she said.
The company that won the initial contract is hiring about 70 Alberta tradespeople, she said, and it’s already got some vehicles out on the road.
“There’s a lot of pent-up demand.”

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