Alberta Provincial Parks being reverted to Crown land

Alberta Provincial Parks being reverted to Crown land

Minister of Environment and Parks Jason Nixon says the sites will still be accessible to the public

The 20 parks listed for “full site closure” or “partial closure” by the provincial government will still be accessible to Albertans.

Jason Nixon, Minister of Environment and Parks, said in a phone interview the parks are not being permanently closed, but rather reverted to Crown land.

“Those under-utilized facilities, the nine, are being reverted back from provincial park status and being returned to Crown public land where people will have full access too camp on it, but then they’ll be managed by the public lands division of Alberta Environment who have officials that are nearby those facilities,” said Nixon.

He added there may be a short period where the areas are closed completely while staff works to ensure the safety of infrastructure on the land before turnover.

According to Nixon the decision was made based on volume and use, as well as distance from Alberta Parks officials.

For example, he says, there is a park up north that only sees 22 campsites used a year and is a six hour round trip for staff to attend to it.

“Alberta Environment takes care of all public lands across the province and we have employees all across the province that do that, whereas parks when you have a very, very isolated spot like that it’s hard for us to get the parks employees to it,” Nixon explained.

Nine parks are listed as a full site closure and another 11 are listed for partial closure where a portion of the facility will be turned over to the public lands division.

“[When] it’s restored back to Crown land it will be open to the public and essentially they would camp there for free,” clarified Nixon. “They’d have less services, that’s all.”

This year a total of of $5 million is being saved by parks this year, but not all of it can be attributed to the campground decisions.

Money is also being saved by not having to fly fire wood out to remote campgrounds, added Nixon.

Much like every other department of government, says Nixon, they are doing their part in to balance the budget.

“We’re also helping to find some savings tightening our belts while Albertans are tightening their belts,” Nixon said. “Primarily the savings will be used to help us keep our department running efficiently [and] to be able to help the government get their balance.”

He added the government is continuing to invest “heavily” into parks this year with just over $86 million despite only getting $36 million in revenue.

In addition to the 20 parks being fully or partially closed another 165 site have been identified as being open for potential partnerships.

Those 165 parks are still being paid for and fully operated by Alberta Environment, says Nixon.

All of these sites are Crown land and are either remote areas or adjacent to municipalities. In the result of a partnership the site will remain Crown land.

Nixon compared potential partnerships to the exchange of the provincial park within Sylvan Lake town limits a few years ago.

The Town requested the park be turned over so the municipality could manage the land instead, a transaction which has been successful, according to Nixon.

“We have other camping facilities west of Sundre, Rocky Mountain House, all through the eastern slopes that are run already in partnerships,” said Nixon.

He used a non-profit group called Friends of the Eastern Slopes as an example stating the areas are still Crown land and available to the public.

“Those park societies hold fundraisers and work together … to be able to maintain those campgrounds and they do a better job, quite frankly, than the government,” Nixon commented.

The list of sites have been identified as possible areas for the partnership structure, but Nixon says it does not necessarily mean all 165 will do it.

These sites have been caught up in the misconception of the government selling Crown land, but that is not the case, said Nixon. The word “sell” is in relation to the assets on site that sometimes get sold in the transfer, not the land itself.

In event of a partnership the non-profit club or society may charge a fee to use the area in order to maintain their work.

“The United Conservative government is dedicated to Crown land and dedicated to making sure that Albertans have access to their backyard, but we do trust Albertans to play a role in helping us manage these places,” said Nixon, adding the government is also committed to protecting the province’s wild places and wildlife.

This park season there will be consultations with Albertans in regard to implementing a fee to access wild areas inside the province to further help with the parks deficit.

Nixon explained the UCP campaigned on the idea of access fees and trail passes, but those will not be coming into effect this season.

A full list of sites affected by the changes can be found on the Government of Alberta’s website.

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