Twenty provincial parks will see full or partial closures in 2020, in a move estimated to save $5 million as part of the Alberta government’s 2020 budget, unveiled last week.
Alberta Parks announced the list of closures online, which will leave some sites entirely off limits to the public this year and others with specific campgrounds or facilities closed.
Shortened operating seasons will be in effect for some provincial campgrounds, meaning later opening dates and earlier closures than usual.
Environment Minister Jason Nixon says the province can no longer afford the “retail” side of parks.
“We can’t continue to spend $86 million of Albertans’ tax dollars and only see $36 million come in,” he said Tuesday.
Nixon was unable to say how much money the move would save. Documents released by his department late Monday put the figure at $5 million in the 2020 budget year.
Beginning this fall, Alberta Parks staff will also no longer groom cross-country ski trail tracks in three areas of the Kananaskis Region. Those include Peter Lougheed Trail, Mount Shark Trail and the Kananaskis Village area.
Grooming will continue at the Canmore Nordic Centre, while track-setting by the West Bragg Creek Trails Association will still occur in the West Bragg Creek area.
The Alberta budget tabled last Thursday also included job losses to seasonal staff and increased camping fees. The government estimated that the equivalent of 25 public-sector positions under the umbrella of Alberta Environment and Parks would be eliminated in the 2020-21 fiscal year.
Ten parks will be fully closed to the public this year, affecting 4,490 hectares of provincial land.
The list of parks with full closures in 2020:
- Kehiwin Provincial Recreation Area
- Running Lake Provincial Recreation Area
- Stoney Lake Provincial Recreation Area
- Sulphur Lake Provincial Recreation Area
- Little Fish Lake Provincial Park
- Crow Lake Provincial Park
- Bleriot Ferry Provincial Recreation Area
- Greene Valley Provincial Park
- Twin Lakes Provincial Recreation Area
- Sheep Creek Provincial Recreation Area
For parks with partial closures, some areas will remain open but non-serviced. That means services such as garbage collection and grounds-keeping won’t take place in the accessible areas of the park.
The 10 parks affected by partial closures:
- Bow Valley Provincial Park Barrier Lake Visitor Information Centre (facility)
- Gooseberry Provincial Recreation Area Elbow Valley Visitor Centre (facility)
- Dinosaur Provincial Park Comfort Camping (facility)
- Gooseberry Provincial Park Lake (campground)
- Engstrom Lake Provincial Recreation Area (campground)
- Chain Lakes Provincial Recreation Area (campground)
- Lawrence Lake Provincial Recreation Area (campground)
- Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park Tolman Bridge Campgrounds (campground)
- Notikewin Provincial Park (campground)
- Smoky River South Provincial Recreation Area (campground)
A service fee increase of $3, on top of the base camping rate at most campgrounds, will take effect this year, according to Alberta Parks.
In last week’s budget, the government also announced it identified 164 of its 473 sites for proposed removal from the system.
“Sites removed from the parks system would have their legal park designations removed, and could be open for alternate management approaches,” Alberta Parks stated online.
“This includes potential Park Partnerships through sale or transfer to another entity such as a municipality, so that sites could continue to provide important economic and recreational benefits to local communities. Some of the sites could also stay open under a public lands management model or revert back to vacant public land.”
The total amount of land involved is about 16,000 hectares. The United Conservative government says that’s less than one per cent of the parks system, but it isn’t clear if that includes the national parks.
The move brought a mix of disbelief and anger from environmental groups, political critics and park users.
Racers in the Kananaskis Ski Marathon also known as the Cookie Race take off from the start for the 3 km event in the 39th annual loppet in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park on Saturday February 27, 2016.Gavin Young /
“It’s extremely disappointing,” said Rhonda Jewett, a cross-country skier who has competed internationally and says she’s never skied anywhere that compares with Kananaskis. Last weekend, she said, the trails were packed with skiers, including a Korean tour group.
Trail groomers make it possible for people with mental and physical disabilities to use the park, she said.
“This is a big deal and I don’t see anything good about it,” said Kecia Kerr of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.
“These are public goods that are for all Albertans. We shouldn’t be thinking of them from a business-model perspective.”
Opposition environment critic Marlin Schmidt said hundreds of people had already contacted his office to express concern about the changes.
“It doesn’t make sense. It’s so out of touch with what Albertans have told me they want.”
An online petition opposing the plan has so far amassed more than 4,000 signatures.
“Will you sign the petition calling on the UCP government to stop the fire-sale of Alberta’s provincial parks?” it states.
The province says the 164 sites are mainly recreation-focused, with many being “very small and under-utilized.”
“Work is underway to explore the feasibility of various alternate management approaches for each site,” the province stated.
Alberta currently manages 473 provincial parks, wildland provincial parks, provincial recreation areas, ecological reserves, wilderness areas, natural areas and heritage rangelands.
With files from the Canadian Press