With the easing of the COVID-19 restrictions and with money being tight as Alberta faces the residual economic affects of the pandemic, Alberta residents are heading outdoors.
However, for some, the stark realization of the March 2 announcement of full and partial closures of some Alberta provincial parks and recreation areas after what the government called an assessment of 473 sites in the Alberta Parks system. They identified 164 sites designated for what the provincial government referred to as “partnerships” which will have private enterprises involved in the servicing of these provincial areas.
This disappointed Katie Morrison, Conservation Director, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) Southern Alberta chapter. Since that announcement, there has been no word about what has happened From the government’s side of things since that time other than hearing of Albertans seeing the changes for themselves.
“There was no public consultation being outside the formal process and now everything is behind closed doors right now,” explains Morrison noting the biggest issue is the delisting of 175 parks from the system. “They are protected by provincial regulations and guidelines… by delisting them, they are open to uses that have nothing to do with conservation.”
She says they become “open land” which can be used for oil exploration, off roading and commercial development.
While the business deals and the private companies wanting to get involved with the servicing of these parks, the ones which have lost some of their services have been noticeable already to those who have ventured there. Without someone looking after the areas, the land could erode and obviously in Morrison’s words “diminish the experience.”
According to Alberta Parks: “Twenty parks will have full or partial closures in 2020. Some of these will be full park closures and others will have partial closures, where either their campgrounds or specific facilities are closed to public access, with the remaining park areas open, but non-serviced. Non-serviced means that services, such as garbage collection and grounds-keeping do not occur in the remaining accessible park areas.”
Full closures: Kehiwin Provincial; Running Lake; Stoney Lake; Sulphur Lake Provincial; Bleriot Ferry; Twin Lakes; and Sheep Creek provincial recreation areas as well as Little Fish Lake; Crow Lake and Greene Valley provincial parks.
• Partial closures: Bow Valley Provincial Park - Barrier Lake Visitor Information Centre; Chain Lakes Provincial Recreation Area; Dinosaur Provincial Park – Comfort Camping; Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park – Tolman Bridge Campgrounds (East and West); Engstrom Lake Provincial Recreation Area; Gooseberry Provincial Park Lake; Gooseberry Provincial Recreation Area – Elbow Valley Visitor Centre; Lawrence Lake Provincial Recreation Area; Notikewin Provincial Park and Smoky River South Provincial Recreation Area.
• Shortened operating seasons (late opening and early closures) in some provincial campgrounds (check Reserve.AlbertaParks.ca or park-specific websites). Beginning fall 2020, there will be no groomed cross-country track setting in the three main areas traditionally groomed by government staff in the Kananaskis Region. These areas are: Peter Lougheed, Mt. Shark and Kananaskis Village area. Grooming will continue to occur at the Canmore Nordic Centre. Track-setting will continue to occur in the West Bragg Creek area, done by the West Bragg Creek Trails Association.
• Service fee increases: Increase of $3 on the base camping rate at most Alberta Parks campgrounds; A $1 increase for each applicable service fee related to power, water, sewers and showers (where those services are provided); A $1 increase to equestrian corral fees at backcountry sites Kananaskis Region; A $10 increase for sites that were at the low end of the fee range charged for comfort camping and group camping. This will only affect those sites that were at the low end of the fee range.
• The government statement also noted “These proposed changes account for less than one per cent of the Alberta Parks land base and would not impact protected areas managed for conservation.”
• A public opinion survey conducted recently shows that almost 7 in 10 Albertans oppose the closure or removal of these parks from the parks system. The poll was conducted as part of an omnibus survey by the market and social research firm Leger from March 12 to 16. https://cpawsnab.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/CPAWS-OMNI.pdf
“In the midst of the pandemic and all of the news from that, the public pressure (has maintained high),” explains Morrison. “Parks have not left their minds. People are appreciating the parks now that they can go out and now what impact (the changes) would have in their lives.”
She says Alberta Parks were jammed packed with full parking lots as people went to use parks for the day. With the closure of many of the campsite and the pandemic rules being loosened, it could get very crowded.
Morrison said from CPAWS findings on the campaign to protest changes to the parks, there have been 10,000 messages sent via social media sent to the Province expressing displeasure.
“Albertans are not letting this go,” explains Morrison. “I don’t know if I seen that one area is more organizing their protests more or are more vocal than other areas. It’s from all across the province from Crowsnest Pass to Fort MacMurray.”
Morrison says the best way to help is to show displeasure with more letter writing directly to the government or media; talking with their local MLA via telephone, online or in-person and just continuing to voice opinions on social media.
“We know this government is moving forward, pandemic or not,” explains Morrison who says lobbying and public pressure must continue.