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Alberta Parks

Alberta Government Wants Your Input About Its Plan for Parks

What should Alberta’s 10-year plan be for parks and protected areas?

If you’ve been out and about this summer, you’ll know that the Provincial parks and protected areas are busier than ever.

There are waitlists for campsites, and many trails, parking lots, and day-use areas are jam-packed.

Obviously, Albertans love their parks and are using them in record numbers.

As the Alberta government prepares to update its 2009 Plan For Parks, some critics fear the ministry is too focused on accommodating more people and not enough on protecting nature.

Forestry and Parks is responsible for Alberta’s parks. Managed under the Provincial Parks Act, parks and protected areas makeup about 3.8 million hectares of the province’s total 66.2 million hectares, or just under 6 percent.

The provincial government is seeking the public’s help revising the plan and developing a 10-year roadmap for managing the growing recreation demand across 78 provincial parks, 34 wildland provincial parks and 193 provincial recreation areas.

The demand for popular trails like Heart Creek Trail in Kananaskis results in overflowing parking on weekends | Evan Buhler | Rocky Mountain Outlook
The demand for popular trails like Heart Creek Trail in Kananaskis results in overflowing parking on weekends | Evan Buhler | Rocky Mountain Outlook

More People, More Demand

Alberta’s population has soared 30 percent since 2009, and more and more people are involved in outdoor recreation.

The crown jewel of the Alberta parks system is Kananaskis Country. It includes nine provincial and wildland parks and over 50 recreation, wilderness and natural areas within spitting distance of Calgary.

Canyon Campground in Kananaskis |  Lana Law | Planetware-com
Canyon Campground in Kananaskis |  Lana Law | Planetware-com

K-Country sees more than 4 million visitors annually. During the COVID-19 pandemic, visitation spiked to a whopping 5.4 million annually. 

Kecia Kerr, Executive Director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) northern Alberta chapter, welcomes discussion about managing crowds.

Obviously, increased numbers of people need to be accommodated; however, she said the province needs to create more parks and stay focused on protecting nature and the diversity of habitats that keep Alberta and Albertans healthy.

“Instead, they’re saying create more campsites. But we can’t just jam more and more campsites into the limited space in our park system that there is,” Kerr said in a story reported by TownandCountry. 

“There needs to be more parks, it’s as simple as that, and we need that anyway for having landscapes that provide protection of different types of habitats.” 

Alberta Parks manages about 14,000 campsites, 201 backcountry camping sites, 74 comfort camping sites and 162 group camping areas.

Too Little Focus on Nature?

Kerr also has concerns about the lack of specific language around conservation of wildlife, plants and their habitats.

The 2009 Plan For Parks listed four key strategies:

  • Involve Albertans
  • Offer modern facilities, policies and programs
  • Provide recreation opportunities
  • Conserve landscapes

What’s missing is mention of ”protecting nature and the wildlife and plants within them, and the benefits of protecting nature for communities,” she said.

Trevor Julian is executive director of Friends of Kananaskis Country, a mostly volunteer organization that buIlds and maintains trails in partnership with Alberta Parks.

Alberta Parks Poster
Alberta Parks

Julian wants to see more investment in designated official trails and more public education.

“That puts them in better shape to handle increased traffic. If they’re well-built, we want the public who comes in there to be on those trails because they’re there for a reason,” Julian said.

“To the degree that we can, we also want to separate people from wildlife and from some of the other areas of the parks where there are unofficial trails. Putting people on official, managed trails is a good idea and investing in them helps with that.”

Studies have shown that parks are beneficial for conservation, human health, and the economy. 

According to CPAWS, every dollar a government invests in parks generates $6 in GDP.

According to the Alberta government, park visitors spend $1.1 billion and generate a $1.2 billion province-wide economic impact every year.

“Our parks provide truly spectacular outdoor experiences, and we need to make sure their unique beauty is preserved for our children and our children’s children,” said Todd Loewen, minister of Forestry and Parks, in a June 19 statement announcing the public engagement. 

“We want Albertans to share their vision with us as we create a renewed and modern plan to bring Alberta’s parks into the future.”

The public has until August 18 to give input on the new Plan for Parks.Go here to have your voice heard.

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