The Alberta government is fully or partially closing 20 provincial parks this year, saying it can no longer afford to operate them.
The changes mean some sites will be entirely off limits to the public, while others will see specific campgrounds or facilities closed.
As well, some campgrounds will experience later opening dates and earlier closures than before. Staff will also no longer groom cross-country ski trails for some destinations.
Environment and Parks minister Jason Nixon told the legislative assembly earlier this month that these facilities are under-used, adding the province will continue to work with parks staff.
“We have some campgrounds, not many but some, inside our province that are losing significant money, millions of dollars,” he said.
The full or partial closures are expected to save the government $5 million, according to the department. Nixon said he believes savings are higher, but he didn’t provide a figure.
In addition, 164 of 473 sites in the province’s park system may be removed for provincial jurisdiction.
Nixon said the government wants to potentially partner with societies, municipalities, non-profits and First Nations to operate these parks or recreational areas.
The closures and proposed removals have drawn much criticism from wilderness and environmental groups.
The Alberta Wilderness Association said the decision threatens the sites’ protected status.
The group said the recreational areas and parks are popular. Plus, it added, the land up for potential removal provides critical ecological and recreational value.
“At a time when Alberta has committed to a national initiative to achieve 17 percent protection of provincial lands, it’s irresponsible to be removing parks and protected areas from our network,” said Grace Wark, a conservation specialist with the association.
The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society Southern Alberta chapter said the government didn’t consult with the public about the changes.
It said it is dismayed and outraged by the move.
Kyle Forbes, chair of the Alberta Grazing Leaseholders Association, said the organization expects the changes will not affect current grazing dispositions.
Depending on the type of development in some lands, however, he said it could reduce grazing acreage, though he expects the potential reduction would be minimal.
“We will be keeping an eye on the changes to make sure that if there are potential impacts on leaseholders, that we can mitigate those impacts and deal with them appropriately,” he said.
During question period March 4, NDP Environment and Parks critic Marlin Schmidt said the government shouldn’t close the parks, arguing more money could be saved if it shelved the $30 million Canadian Energy Centre, a government-funded public relations organization that’s advocating for the energy sector.
The centre has been mired in controversy recently.
“Given that his (Nixon’s) terrible choices will make it harder for Albertans to be able to use public parks for camping, hiking, skiing, or any other activities, will the minister listen to the families that use these parks and immediately reverse the cuts that he’s making?” Schmidt asked the assembly.
In response, Nixon said the government is being fiscally responsible, adding Albertans will still have access to the best recreation opportunities.
“The previous government wanted to sit there and watch taxpayer money go down the drain,” he said. “We don’t accept that. We have a better way forward.”
Parks receiving full closures include:
- 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
Parks being partially closed include:
- 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)
The 164 sites proposed for removal from the system can be found at https://bit.ly/38oBgIM.
As well, there will be an additional $3 service fee charged on top of the base camping rate for most campgrounds. The change will take effect this year.