Chinook Lake closure catches Crowsnest council off guard

·3 min read

As a popular camping and outdoor recreation area, Chinook Provincial Recreation Area’s temporary closure last month was undoubtedly disappointing for people looking to have some summer fun before autumn hits.

The fact the park was closed on the August long weekend without any consultation was also disappointing to Crowsnest Pass council. Mayor Blair Painter brought up the closure during the Aug. 16 regular meeting.

“Not to have any consultation with our community, with our council or administration, no heads up, just wham bam there it is — I know my experience trying to get a camp space, it’s pretty darn tough,” Painter said.

“The big thing is, that took a big chunk of tourism dollars out of our community, an area the province figures we have to live on.”

Subsequent attempts to contact representatives from Alberta Transportation and Environment and Parks had also gone unreturned, the mayor added.

The closure was necessary for improving the main access roads and refurbishing the campsites and trails. Just under $1.4 million is slated for the project.

Coun. Dean Ward said the construction scheduling was poor, given that August was the busiest time of the year for campers.

“This is something that could have been done in September or October, after the summer months,” he said.

In an emailed statement to the Breeze, Rob Williams, senior press secretary for Alberta Environment and Parks, said the project — which involves brush-clearing, subgrade prep, drainage mitigation, gravel placement, and placing trail wayfinding signage to connect the day-use area to the three campground loops — required summer conditions.

“As the construction project requires at least three months in frost and snow free conditions, work began in August and will be completed by the end of October,” Williams said.

The statement also noted that there were many other camping and day-use areas available in the region, including Castle and Beauvais Lake provincial parks, and provincial recreation areas at Oldman Dam, Dutch Creek, Lundbreck Falls RA and Racehorse Creek, along with public land-use zones at Atlas-McGillvray and Willow Creek.

The problem, however, was the other options themselves are usually booked full, and stricter enforcement of random camping rules in Castle Wildland Provincial Park means more random campers were setting up in Crowsnest Pass.

“It’s just forced all of that activity into our space and it’s unregulated, largely unpatrolled,” said Coun. Vicki Kubik. “They’re everywhere. To eliminate what is effectively several hundred campsites is just driving this.”

Although the statement from Alberta Environment and Parks said Crowsnest Pass was notified prior to the project going to tender, Coun. Lisa Sygutek said the lack of communication of a specific construction date was unacceptable.

“This is egregious enough — I know they don’t really care about our letters, but I really do think that the lack of communication from whomever is running that department, a letter needs to be written right to the minister,” she said.

“That’s unacceptable, to be doing work in our community, and we have to take the brunt of their non-communication.”

Council directed administration to write a letter to the minister of environment and parks to bring attention to the lack of consultation.

The next regular council meeting is Tuesday, Sept. 13, 7 p.m. in council chambers.

Sean Oliver, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze