Parks as playgrounds or protected places? Albertans get chance to help decide

Albertans are getting the chance to help the government decide how to balance environmental protection for its parks with demand for more campsites and off-road trails.

CALGARY — Albertans are getting the chance to help the government decide how to balance environmental protection for its parks with demand for more campsites and off-road trails.

“For the first time Albertans will, in each region, have the ability to help plan parks. In the past, it might have been done by staff and by specific groups. Now there will be a balance at the table and all will have a voice,” Parks Minister Cindy Ady said Monday.

Under a new 10-year plan, Albertans will be asked for input on how parks in their regions should be used, although the government has the final say. How that consultation will happen isn’t spelled out.

A new parks advisory council made up of government, business, academic and aboriginal leaders to advise Ady on park policies and projects. A new way is also to be developed for nominating areas for provincial park status.

Other goals include consulting more with aboriginals on park planning, upgrading park amenities and bringing in an online campground reservation system.

Starting May 1, Albertans will be able to book camping spots online up to three months in advance for a $10 fee.

The final plan released Monday was preceded by two drafts and was done after talks with environmentalists, recreation enthusiasts, tourism operators and local politicians.

Greg Belland, executive director of the southern Alberta chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, said the document is more focused than earlier drafts but falls far short of expectations.

“It’s still pretty weak,” he said in an interview. “It has no specifics with respect to completing the parks system, expanding the parks system, where and when.

“It’s basically a plan to do a plan.”

Belland questioned regionalized parks planning.

“It downloads the creation of parks to community groups or these regional land-use plans, so where’s the overall strategy for the province? That’s not there.”

If, for example, more campgrounds are allowed, where will they be allowed and what rules must they follow, Belland asked.

“We are for recreational opportunities and access to those opportunities, but the plan doesn’t say where.”

There are about 500 provincial parks in Alberta covering more than 27,000 square kilometres in total — about four per cent of the province and half the size of its national parks.

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