Alberta Forestry and Parks has rescinded the designations of four provincial recreation areas.
As per a report, the decision, announced on January 24, transfers Fir Creek, Eyrie Gap, Crane Meadow, and Big Elbow recreation areas, totaling 14 hectares, to Crown land. Notably, Big Elbow remains under the protection of the Provincial Parks Act as part of Don Getty Wildland Provincial Park.
This action is part of a broader initiative by Alberta Parks, aiming to enhance recreation and camping opportunities while addressing administrative and regulatory concerns. The recent changes in Kananaskis Country are among a province-wide deregulation of 10 sites, encompassing a total of 50 hectares.
The delisting of Eyrie Gap and Fir Creek, both near Highwood Junction, follows their significant damage in the 2013 flood. These areas had been previously identified for removal in the 2013 South Saskatchewan Regional Plan (SSRP). Eyrie Gap, closed since 2013 due to low use and flood damage, and Fir Creek, also impacted by a 1995 flood, are part of a vulnerable floodplain.
Crane Meadow Provincial Recreation Area, another site removed from the provincial recreation area list, had not been developed for recreational use despite its designation.
The decision to delist these areas has raised concerns among conservationists and outdoor enthusiasts. Katie Morrison, executive director of CPAWS Southern Alberta, emphasized the importance of public engagement and Indigenous consultation in park management decisions.
The communication strategy surrounding these changes has been a point of contention. Banff-Kananaskis MLA Sarah Elmeligi pointed out the need for clear communication, especially in light of the public uproar following a 2020 attempt to delist 184 provincial parks and recreation areas. She also noted that while the SSRP calls for expanding protected areas in Kananaskis, these expansions were not included in the recent order.
The management of provincial recreation areas in Kananaskis is governed by the Provincial Parks Acts and the Kananaskis Country Provincial Recreation Areas and Bragg Creek Provincial Park Management Plan. This plan accommodates a range of outdoor activities, with specific restrictions to preserve the area’s natural and cultural values.
The removal of these designations opens up these lands to activities such as camping, industrial activity, hunting, or grazing, now part of public land use zones with fewer protections. The potential long-term effects on the landscape and the outdoor recreation industry remain a subject of concern and interest.
In addition to the delisting, the province announced the addition of 1,400 hectares to the provincial park and recreation areas. This expansion includes the establishment of Kleskun Hills Provincial Park near Grande Prairie and a new recreation area northwest of Lac La Biche, aimed at protecting unique grassland ecosystems.
Elmeligi commended the creation of new parks and urged for further expansion of existing protected areas and enhancement of camping opportunities. She highlighted the upcoming 2024 provincial budget as a potential indicator of increased funding for Alberta Parks, which could significantly impact the development and management of outdoor recreation spaces in the province.
The changes in Kananaskis Country’s outdoor recreation landscape reflect a dynamic balance between conservation, public access, and land management. As Alberta Parks navigates these changes, the implications for the outdoor recreation industry and the natural environment remain a focal point of discussion and development.