Okotoks resident Jeff Retzlaff frequently camps in Kananaskis Country with his family. He just renewed his annual K-Country conservation pass and says it's about time the province enforced the user fees.
"We're always in Kananaskis … you got people that don't pay that are sliding in, and it's just not fair," he said.
One year after Alberta launched the user-fee program, critics question whether the fees are being spent as promised.
The province says it's brought in just over $13.3 million since the fee took effect last June, and it breaks down where the money has been spent. The major expenditures were new conservation officers, the public safety program and Canmore Nordic Centre operations.
But Edmonton NDP MLA Marlin Schmidt says park users are getting much of the same service but for a higher price.
"Things like ski trail grooming, well they introduced a separate user fee for that, so is the ski trail grooming that they mention in the park in that graphic? Is that from the K-Country pass? Is that from a separate Canmore redevelopment that was supposed to go ahead?" Schmidt asked.
"It looks like they're providing transparency, but what they're actually doing is raising more questions than answering."
Environment Minister Jason Nixon introduced the fee a year ago. He said it was to pay for maintenance and wear and tear in the increasingly popular 4,200-square-kilometre wilderness area made up of several provincial parks west of Calgary.
Staff will be scanning licence plates and issuing $150 tickets to anyone who doesn't have the proper pass and who is not exempt from payment. Area residents and recipients of Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) don't have to pay.
The fee was introduced a year ago with an extended grace period, but Environment Department spokesperson Paul Hamnett said Friday the pass is now being enforced.
The area gets about five million visitors a year. The government said the pass helps to keep on top of the influx, to enforce rules and to clean garbage from hiking trails.
NDP Leader Rachel Notley said an NDP government would continue to fund improvements but scrap the pass if elected in next year's election.
She said paying $15 a day, or $90 a year for personal vehicles, is unfair to lower-income people and their families.
"These parks, they belong to all Albertans, and we won't put up barriers for Albertans, regardless of their income, to experiencing this outdoor gem," Notley said Friday.
The next provincial election is scheduled for May 29, 2023.