By Trevor Busch
Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park is receiving an influx of infrastructure funding for improvements following an announcement by the province.
Provincial parks will be receiving a $239 million investment over the next five years, with recreational users able to take advantage of new and improved campsites, hiking trails, shower buildings, playgrounds, more picnic tables and campsites with power, expanded parking lots and refurbished day-use areas throughout the parks system.
How much is being allocated specifically for Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park is unknown, but some of the funding will be used for roadway upgrades and trail improvements in the park.
“I’m in favour of that,” said Cardston-Taber-Warner MLA Grant Hunter, whose riding boundaries encompass Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park. “Our provincial parks are gems, and I think it’s very important that we should upkeep them. I’m really glad that they’re actually spending the $200 million on upgrading our provincial parks, because they really need it.”
According to the provincial government, Alberta’s provincial parks are in dire need of increased maintenance funding to offset decades of neglect that have left many assets such as shelters, roads, visitor information centres and water systems in poor condition. The funding will also support work below the ground, such as water-line replacements and such cosmetic surface improvements as painting and campsite refurbishment.
Hunter would like to see a system of funding assessment, that factors in annual costs of operation rather than just an initial capital cost for construction.
“I would actually like to see a model where when we invest in something — this wasn’t being done with the past government — where if you do a project, and the capital outlay is $200 million, if you’re going to do that project you actually have to take into consideration, and make sure you allocate in your operational budget, how much it’s going to cost to keep that up. We have infrastructure that’s in deplorable condition because we’re not keeping up. We have deferred infrastructure needs all over this province that are not being kept up, because it’s not being budgeted. I think that’s a real problem. So I would be very much in favour of whenever you do a project, make sure that you have not just a capital outlay of what it’s going to cost, but also the cost of upkeep built into the budget as well.”
Alberta’s provincial parks system is managed under five regions, all of which receive annual life-cycle maintenance funding to address priorities to enhance the visitor experience. More than 100 provincial parks, provincial recreation areas and day-use areas in every region are expected to benefit from the government’s capital and maintenance commitment.
For the 2016-2017 fiscal year, Alberta Parks is allocating $16.22 million for maintenance funding (doubling to $33.98 million in 2017-2018 and subsequent fiscal years), $10 million for South Saskatchewan Regional Plan commitments, $5 million for Lower Athabasca Regional Plan commitments, $5.12 million for flood mitigation for the Kananaskis Country Golf Course, and $2 million for parks planning.
Another provincial park in the riding, Police Outpost Provincial Park, could also stand to benefit from some enhanced attention from the province in future, according to Hunter.
“We have a park over here, Police Outpost Provincial Park, there’s no paved road in there. There’s only two provincial parks in Alberta that don’t have a paved road going to it, and that’s one of them in our riding. I went to the Infrastructure Minister (Brian Mason) and talked to him about that, there’s only two parks that don’t have paved roads going to it and I think it’s the responsibility of the province to make sure that they’re paved, just as they’ve paved every other one. Anyway, they said no — I didn’t convince them.”
Other projects that will benefit from the funding announcement include the addition of comfort cabins at Lakeland Provincial Park, campground re-development at English Bay Provincial Recreation Area, playground and day-use area upgrades at Young’s Point Provincial Park, parking lot conversion to a camping area at Lesser Slave Lake Provincial Park, trail system upgrades at Blackfoot-Cooking Lake Provincial Recreation Area, expansion of parking lots at Wabamun Lake Provincial Park, trailhead expansion at West Bragg Creek Provincial Recreation Area, campground and day-use expansion and upgrades at Sibbald Lake Provincial Recreation Area, and also in the southern region there will be a boardwalk redevelopment at Cypress Hills Provincial Park.