Parking fee raises $300,000 for grooming cross-country ski trails in Kananaskis Country

·3 min read
A volunteer-led paid parking program in Kananaskis Country west of Calgary has enabled cross-country ski enthusiasts to keep several popular trails groomed after the province scaled back its operations.  (Evelyne Asselin/Radio Canada - image credit)
A volunteer-led paid parking program in Kananaskis Country west of Calgary has enabled cross-country ski enthusiasts to keep several popular trails groomed after the province scaled back its operations. (Evelyne Asselin/Radio Canada - image credit)

A cross-country skiing group says its volunteers managed to collect more than $300,000 by asking visitors to pay a fee to park in Kananaskis Country last winter, allowing them to keep grooming several popular trails after the province scaled back its service.

After Premier Jason Kenney's UCP government announced last year it would no longer groom and set popular cross-country ski trails this winter in Kananaskis Country, Nordiq Alberta, the governing body for cross-country skiing in the province, proposed an alternative.

Though the government was to continue grooming at the Canmore Nordic Centre and track setting in the West Bragg Creek area, it wasn't going to continue doing so for the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park trails, which are some of the most popular in the province with an estimated 100,000 site visits in the winter — representing about 40,000 vehicles.

Evelyne Asselin/Radio Canada
Evelyne Asselin/Radio Canada

Under a pilot project Nordiq Alberta arranged with the province, the group asked people to voluntarily pay for parking to use the trails at Kananaskis Village, Ribbon Creek, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Mount Shark and the Sandy McNabb Recreation Area in Kananaskis Country.

The program was a success, said volunteer and organizer Ken Hewitt.

WATCH | Learn how volunteers stepped up to keep Alberta's cross-country trails groomed:

"Our goal when we started the project was to raise over $200,000 in order to pay for the winter ski trail grooming that Alberta Parks staff did. By the end of March 2021, we raised just toward $300,000 — about $100,000 more than we needed to sustain the grooming," he said.

"As a recreational cross-country skier, it's a night and day issue, whether you ski on groomed trails or non-groomed trails. And we've had it for 45 years in the Kananaskis. So it was important that we find a way to sustain it."

Hewitt says the surplus is being used for improvements, such as new signs, equipment and free WiFi in the Pocaterra Warming Hut in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park.

Duane Fizor with Alberta Parks says the province, in co-operation with groups like Nordiq Alberta, grooms more than 250 kilometres in K-Country throughout the winter months.

"The work of our volunteers is integral to the work that we do. We have a long history of working with volunteers in Kananaskis Country as well as across Alberta Parks," he said.

As of June 1, 2021, the province enacted a new park pass system for K-Country. All personal and commercial vehicles stopping in Kananaskis Country and the Bow Valley corridor will need a Kananaskis Conservation Pass that costs $15 per visit or $90 annually.

The province says every dollar raised will go toward operating and capital expenses in K-Country.

Parks spokesperson Bridget Burgess says the government is investing $250,000 in winter grooming across the region this year.

That means the parking fee pilot project is no longer needed.

"The project was successful and created exceptional experiences for Albertans last year," Burgess said in an email. "It is not supporting trail grooming this year."

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