No intention to close dunes to OHVs: County

·5 min read

An ATV accident at the Brule Sand Dunes over the long weekend resulted in one death of a 21-year-old female from Devon.

The Hinton RCMP preliminary investigation indicates the female was operating the ATV down a large incline and lost control, rolling the ATV. The woman was taken to hospital where she was later declared deceased. No more updates are expected on the accident.

Yellowhead County Council discussed the ongoing accidents, damage, and lack of management in the area during a meeting on April 20. They felt some regulation is necessary for the safety of individuals using the area and the environmental impacts of their off highway vehicles (OHV).

A petition to “stop the closure” of the Brule Sand Dunes, community pasture, and Solomon Mountain to OHV sparked ongoing debate between Brule area residents and recreational users of the area, but Yellowhead County said closure is not their intention.

A letter outlining the County’s concerns was sent to Minister Jason Nixon of Environment and Parks, West Yellowhead MLA Martin Long, and Lac Ste. Anne-Parkland MLA Shane Getson.

“The intent of the letter from Council to the Minister is not to close access to the Brule Sand Dunes or any area currently legally accessible for off highway vehicles or any other recreational usage or random camping,” stated Stefan Felsing, Yellowhead County communications coordinator.

Instead, the intent is to have the province increase enforcement and education of any illegal usage. Council noted the increase of garbage and waste, trespassing, and the unnecessary damage to the land. The letter also detailed garbage, burnt cars, and OHVs that litter this once pristine area.

“The reason we brought this forward is because we’re having people going into the [Rock Lake - Solomon Creek] Wildland Provincial Park, into the river, and into off designated routes,” said Coun. Lavone Olson of division eight, including Hinton, Cadomin, and Robb Areas.

OHV operators often travel across private or County property without regard for the residents and owners, she added.

Provincial laws around recreation on Alberta’s public land state that driving an OHV in any body of water or shoreline is illegal. OHV’s are also legally required to stay on established and well-defined trails, even if in snow.

Olson clarified that the County wants to raise awareness around these provincial laws and regulations, and not shut down the entire area. While regulating the area is outside of the County’s jurisdiction, as all public land is managed by the province, the County said more needs to be done to keep the area clean and safe.

“We are just trying to support the people in this area. Everybody needs respect and has the right to use these trails that are historical for hiking, biking, riding, and they have rights as well,” Olson said.

The Brule pasture is a grazing pasture for commercial outfitters that has been used since the 1960s, Olson explained, and the increase of OHVs is damaging the essential grazing land.

OHV users need to be made aware that there are designated routes in this area that they need to stay on, she added. In the Wildland Park, OHV’s are illegally using and damaging hiking trails, which Olson believes most users don’t even realize is prohibited.

“At some point there has to be some regulation, they have to be kept out of the rivers and streams. That’s really important to protect our watersheds and our drinking water and all that kind of stuff,” Olson said.

OHV’s going into waterways at the Brule Sand Dunes can harm fish species that use shorelines as spawning habitat, according to the province.

Olson hopes the letter from Yellowhead County will alert MLA Martin Long and the Minister of Environment to the escalating problem.

The province recently introduced Bill 64, the Public Lands Amendment Act, to allow the provincial government to charge fees for recreation activities on public lands.

These fees would be reinvested directly to improve visitor experiences and help conserve and protect wilderness areas, according to the province.

The County’s letter stated their concern about the stakeholder list for this bill not including Yellowhead county or any other municipality.

Olson said that if there’s a provincial fee, the County would like that to go towards management.

“That it should go specifically to management so we don’t have to deal with wildfires from random campers and all that kind of stuff,” Olson said.

The County and Brule’s surrounding municipalities shoulder the cost of the many OHV accidents and wildfires that occur in the area.

Several thousand dollars were spent on a preventable accident where an ATV was driven over a cliff and fell 20 feet in the Brule Community Pasture on March 19, 2021, said Perry Hayward, West division chief of Yellowhead County Fire Department (YCFD) in an email to Coun. Olson.

The total response was one RCMP car with one officer, one Basic Life Support Ambulance with two EMTs, one Advanced Life Support Ambulance with two Paramedics, one YCFD Engine with one Fire Officer and one Firefighter, one YCFD Pickup with three Firefighters, Trailer, and ATV, and one YCFD Pickup with Duty Officer from YCFD Headquarters in Edson.

In addition to the costs incurred by the County each year, there are additional costs such as STARS response.

Masha Scheele, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hinton Voice