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Kananaskis Pass information and photos of hikers
Alberta.ca | Kananaskis Outfitters

Fees or Freedom? The Controversy Over The Kananaskis Conservation Pass

Citing his father's vision for accessible natural spaces, Joe Lougheed shared thoughts on the importance of free access to Kananaskis Country

Should we pay user fees to access Kananaskis Country?

This question has been raised numerous times, and now Banff-Kananaskis MLA Sarah Emelgi has asked the province to scrap the controversial Kananaskis Conservation Pass.

At a press conference before the long weekend in May, she said hardworking Albertans deserve free access to the outdoors in Kananaskis Country.

“This is a much-needed step towards making the outdoors an accessible and affordable experience Albertans deserve,” Emelgi said. 

In 1978, then-Premier Peter Lougheed established Kananaskis Country and Kananaskis Provincial Park – now called  Peter Lougheed Provincial Park.

Joe Lougheed, the former Premier’s son, recently shared thoughts about his father’s motivation with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society’s (CPAWS) Southern Alberta Chapter.

“I think Dad believed that if people experience natural areas, they become more connected and more determined to protect it,” he told CPAWS, adding that his father also wanted K-Country to remain accessible to a wide range of Albertans and tourists.

In 2021, the UCP government launched the so-called K-Pass, which is required for anyone wanting to park a vehicle on public lands in Kananaskis Country and the Bow Valley Corridor.

An annual pass costs $90, a day pass costs $15.

Notification sign for the Kananaskis Conservation Pass
Notification sign for the Kananaskis Conservation Pass | Ethan Ward

Where Does the Money Go?

The pass earned $12 million in 2021/22 and $11 million in 2022/23. 

According to Alberta Forestry and Parks, the province will collect another $12 million in pass fees for this budget year.

According to a receipt obtained and released by CTV News in 2022, the provincial government pays private contractor Global Traffic Group Ltd. $2 million annually to enforce the Kananaskis Conservation Pass. 

The government spends the rest on visitor services, seasonal park positions, and volunteer trail associations.    

“It’s a distraction and also a slippery slope for the government to be imposing user fees in areas where we want Albertans to connect with nature, and yeah, visitor impacts need to be managed, but that shouldn’t be filtered by user fees,” Carolyn Campbell, conservation director with Alberta Wilderness Association, told CTV News

A breakdown of what the Kananaskis Conservation Pass revenues were used for
A breakdown of what the Kananaskis Conservation Pass revenues were used for | Alberta.ca 

Campbell added, “There does need to be a good visitor management strategy, and conservation, and enforcement of rules, but that should be funded by general revenues because Albertans are really managing and holding these priceless protected areas in trust for our children and grandchildren; we don’t think the government should be imposing user fees.”

The K-Pass came at a bad time as high inflation continues to hit Albertans hard in the wallet.

According to Statistics Canada, Alberta’s inflation rate topped the nation at 4.2 percent in February. It remains the highest in Canada, currently at 3.5 percent.

At her recent press conference, MLA Sarah Emelgi said charging a park fee to Albertans who want to get out and enjoy the outdoors is an added burden when they’re already struggling to pay for groceries, gas, and other necessities.

She also pointed out that Danielle Smith criticized the fee while running for Premier in 2022. 

In a June 2022 Ask Me Anything video, she called Kananaskis a place that “was always supposed to be that open-access space for Albertans.”

“The idea that we’re somehow going to improve things and the access by charging … what is it, a $90 park pass? That impacts families at a time when everything is going up for families,” Smith said.

Emelgi calls on Smith to back her election campaign rhetoric with action and ditch the fee.

What do you think? Should there be user fees for Kananaskis or should access be free?

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