By Greg Price
There is plenty of push back expected over the recent decision by the provincial government regarding the establishment of park boundaries in the Castle area as well as an end to off-highway vehicle (OHV) use in the parks.
Premier Rachel Notley and Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips were on hand in Pincher Creek to make the announcement in establishing the Castle Provincial Park and the expanded Castle Wildland Provincial Park, which they noted will save 103,000 hectares of land from disturbance and development. The Castle area is home to more than 200 rare or at-risk species along the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains.
A group of organizations including Hillcrest Fish and Game, Crowsnow Riders and the Quad Squad are working together to hold a town hall meeting on Feb. 7 at 7:30 p.m. at the MDM Community Centre (Bellevue, Alta.) to talk of their displeasure with the decision, and possibly have the decision overturned before it turns into legislation.
“The municipality is fully supportive of OHV use in the parks, however (they have) been left out of all Castle management board meetings and any say to the government in-spite of their efforts to be heard,” said Gary Clark, president of the CNP Quad Squad in his president’s report as obtained by The Taber Times. “This will be an organized meeting, it will not be allowed to turn into a blame game shouting match, but an opportunity to allow citizens to voice their opinion with a summary of concerns to be forwarded to the government.”
Expected to be in attendance will be MLA Pat Stier, MP John Barlow and Municipality of Crowsnest Pass Mayor Blair Painter.
The draft management plan of the parks calls for an elimination of OHV use in a two-to-five year phase out program where limited access will be allowed in the parks. Premier Notley announced new trails will be built to accommodate the loss of the Park Trail System outside of the park area.
An action Clark finds lacking in logic given the options already afforded.
“We have trouble with this statement when we already know that we will be losing more trails in the Porcupine and Livingstone Range to reduce the linear footprint,” said Clark, adding the club has put in approximately 80,000 volunteer hours on trail maintenance, construction, and installing infrastructure such as bridges. “Our argument is why spend millions of dollars to build new trails when we already have a sustainable trail system in the Castle area. We were told that OHV use would be allowed to continue on sustainable designated trails in the Castle when the parks were first announced. They have done the exact opposite.”
A concerned Taberite that will be attending the town hall meeting is Carol Astalos. There have been many organizations around the Crowsnest Pass that have helped out with the stewardship of the land in question, only to see their efforts taken away for what the actions were intended for.
“We have all volunteered for years. There’s cleaning up the garbage on Stewardship Day, we install firepits at the staging area. We clean the trails of bush and helped the government improve the area,” said Astalos. “We figure it was for our use, and now we know the true intentions. All our hard work has been for them to make a park. It’s not even just about the ATVs. We hunt, we fish, it’s for hiking, it’s for ATVs, it’s snowmobiling, trappers, ranchers that have cattle on Crown land, and campers — there’s now going to be a fee now where we are all going to be charged to use something that should be free to us, and not be allowed to do what we are doing. They are shutting it down for the taxpayers of Alberta and going to have the foreigners come and enjoy it, which we are totally in disagreement with. We want Alberta to enjoy it.”
There has been a petition circulating around, with 2,533 supporters of the petition as of late last week, where the petition will be presented to Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips. The town hall meeting was posted on the Quad Squad Facebook Page and it already had over 131,000 hit son it as of late Thursday afternoon, underscoring the concern about the parks decision. Astalos has property in the area and her extended family will be attending the town hall meeting.
“We have enough parks, we have Waterton. We do not need another park. We all pay our taxes and we do not need another park. That is our point,” said Astalos. “We have used that area for 40 years, for three generations as a family and now they are trying to take it away.”
Astalos also pointed t traffic concerns on the roads leading up to the parks in question as already it takes hours for help to arrive.
“That road, if you have an accident on that highway, you can see there for three hours as it is now. I have sat there in 80-degree heat. How are they going to have the traffic controlled there for tourists?” questioned Astalos. “There only the one road from there to British Columbia, you can sit from there to Fernie for three hours from an accident they are trying to clean up. It will be taxpayer money to improve the roads, the whole thing is crazy.”
The president of the Alberta Off Highway Vehicle Association (AOHVA) also voiced his deep disappointment of the decision by the provincial government to unilaterally shut down OHV use in The Castle.
“There are an estimated 165,000 OHV recreation users of which 124,000 are currently in the province. By closing off The Castle without providing a safe sustainable place for riders to go will make the problem of OHV-linked environmental issues worse, not better,” said Brent Hodgson, in a press release issued late last week. “These users will need a place to ride, and with The Castle closed to us, we fear that responsible users may make poor decisions on trail access and usage. This will lead to more of the problems the restrictions in The Castle were supposed to avoid.”
The Quad Squad is encouraging people to take the on-line survey found on the government Web site, or the organization’s Web site or Facebook Page. The organization is also encouraging people to write a personal letter to the minister of the environment with a copy to your local MLA.
There will also be a rally in Lethbridge on Feb. 11 at Galt Gardens from 10:30 a.m. to 12 p.m., which is being organized by Brian Litchfield and the Rocky Mountain Trail Blazers.