Alberta’s Camping Pass triggers conversation on how enforcement works in the Sandhills

·4 min read

During the last Woodlands County Economic Development Committee (WCEDC) meeting, members discussed a new guide published by the Government of Alberta called Alberta's Guide to Outdoor Recreation on Provincial Crown Land. The 64-page booklet delves into topics like the Public Lands Camping Pass, implemented on June 1, and off-road vehicle use.

The Camping Pass area encompasses public land in the Eastern Slopes of the Rocky Mountains from Grande Prairie to Waterton Lakes National Park, West of Highway 43 and Highway 22. Passes are for campers 18+, and all those of age need one. It costs $20 for three days or $30/annual. The money the government raises through the fee will be put back into the region, states the guide, to improve the recreation experience. Page seven lists the ways funds will be used, including upgrading infrastructure, improving education, supporting conservation, and providing better waste management.

For Woodlands County, enforcement of the Camping Pass isn't easy. "Here we have one full-time game warden, and in hunting season, he gets help. He covers Whitecourt, Swan Hills, and Fox Creek," commented Councillor Bruce Prestidge. Expecting the warden to handle the potential intake of non-permitted campers would be impossible.

"A couple of years ago, ESRD (Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development) asked us if we wanted to take over the area in the Sandhills where the ATVs are and we, point-blank, said no. Because then it's our problem," explained Councillor Dale Kluin. "You would need one (a warden) at the cemetery and one at the ferry because that's where they (campers) go. The problem we've found, though, is there are so many people out there that they've headed north. There is a road that will take you to Slave Lake, along the power line, and now there are little bunches of people, wherever they can find some high ground, making camping areas way back in there."

Committee member Art Bauer agreed, stating they see similar issues in the Groat Creek area. "There are people just pulling over, camping willy-nilly in there. We had problems years ago where people were there for more than two weeks. We have these problem areas, and they were a little bit tougher to deal with during covid. This document coming out, I think, is a way of addressing some of that."

Though he said some have spoken against the changes, Bauer feels that middle ground is needed. "They (the government) actually did a lot of work on this document. As a public document now, in lieu of not having anything else other than the regulations, this document probably steps forward, but I can see the same problem. I don't know how they are going to enforce it."

With minimal enforcement capabilities, Councillor Prestidge felt not much would change. "All it's going to do is that the ones that want to be legal will buy it, and the ones that don't want to will just carry on the way they are." He recalled attending an Alberta Parks and Recreation conference where he asked two Alberta Parks representatives how they would enforce it. "It was just a blank stare. They had no idea. One of the councillors from Brazeau County asked them, what are you going to do on May-long weekend when a quarter of a million people are coming from Calgary and Edmonton to the Eastern slope? How are you going to enforce it? And there's no way they can." Councillor Kluin agreed with his colleague. "The Sandhills, every weekend, is full of quads or whatever, and there's nobody up there collecting any money or telling them what they need to do." He wondered if having a representative from Alberta Parks or ESRD attend a council meeting to explain things would be beneficial.

The Economic Development Committee decided to have physical copies of the guide available at both county offices and to include the link to the guide on the County's website. Their decisions will also be on the agenda for Woodlands County Council's next meeting. If Council decides to look into it further, that would be their call to make. "If there is a need for more camping facilities, then you've got a referenced document to plan that around. (Council) can look at the demand and listen to what ESRD has to say," concluded Bauer.

To view the document at the centre of the conversation, visit https://open.alberta.ca/publications and type Alberta's Guide to Outdoor Recreation on Provincial Crown Land in the search bar under Search Publications.

Serena Lapointe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Whitecourt Press

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