Many central Albertans left the comfort of their home in freezing temperatures on Super Bowl Sunday to learn about the provincial government’s plans for Bighorn Country.
Some even lined up outside for the doors to open at Westerner Park.
Many Albertans oppose the government’s $40-million provincial park proposal for the area that covers 4,000 square kilometres along the front ranges of the Rocky Mountains.
Red Deer County resident Dave Winnicky, who trail rides and camps in the Bighorn backcountry, said the proposal is an ambiguous cash grab for the government.
“Having them designate this all as parks now will in the future take access away from our grandchildren, and initiate costs going to these parks. And who in Alberta will be able to afford to go except for tourists?” he said at Sunday’s open house.
Winnicky noted the government wants to spend a chunk of money during a recession – something he does not support.
Instead, the central Albertan proposes fixing up the campgrounds and increasing enforcement in the region.
Dave Johanson, another Red Deer County resident, echoed the need for enforcement to preserve the scenic beauty and diversity of the area.
“We have two per cent of people making problems out there, and the other 98 per cent of us are suffering for this,” Johanson said, adding some people “rip up the country, trash the area and the wetlands.”
He said designating the area as a park means the government will be able to institute rules, regulations and permits at any time.
“Lot of the questions are ‘what’s going to happen?’ and a lot of the answers are, ‘this is going to be a plan over five years,’” Johanson said of the lack of clarity.
Rick Blackwood, assistant deputy minister of Environment and Parks’ strategy division, said people are looking for clarity.
“They’ve looked at the proposal and looked at the maps, and they’re not clear on what a number of different elements in the plan mean, so we’ve had a good opportunity to provide clarity on those points,” he said.
Central Albertans provided general overall opinions on the region, as well as specific comments on individual sites “that they have a lot of history with,” he said.
The feedback will help shape the proposal going forward, Blackwood said.
Peter Reed, the Alberta Off-Highway Vehicle Association’s vice-president, said he is concerned the process is being rushed through without proper consultation.
“They’re closing the trails, they’re limiting the amount of use on trails. The whole thing is jumping ahead of itself,” said Reed, noting the closures of trails for ATVs around Abraham Lake.
About 195,000 people are members of the club across the province, he noted.
“They’re telling us that everything (trails) is going to remain open, but we have no proof of that,” he said, adding the process reminds him of restrictions enforced on ATV users in Castle area parks and Livingstone-Porcupine Hills in southern Alberta.
“We’re expecting to be basically kicked off the land.”
The input session goes until Feb. 15, followed by targeted stakeholder sessions.
Bighorn Country includes Clearwater County, most of Brazeau County and the current Bighorn Backcountry management area. It features mountains, foothills, forests, lakes, streams and the headwaters of the North Saskatchewan River, which more than a million Albertans depend on for drinking water.