More and more Albertans are vacationing without leaving the province, especially during the summer when recreation opportunities in the Rocky Mountains reach peak levels.
Last summer in particular saw record levels of random camping along the eastern slopes of the Rockies. The high volume of campers placed enormous stress on existing infrastructure and facilities while also revealing areas that could benefit from having more services.
As a result, the Alberta government introduced Bill 64 in the legislature last month. If passed, the bill will amend portions of the Public Lands Act to allow the government to collect fees for recreation on public lands, specifically a public-land camping pass along the eastern slopes.
The proposed cost would apply to people over the age of 18 and would be $20 per person for three days or $30 for an annual pass, plus a $3.25 processing fee and GST. Passes would be available at www.albertarelm.com or at locations where fishing and hunting licences are sold.
The passes would not apply to private, municipal or federal lands, nor would First Nations people with status cards be required to purchase them.
Revenue from pass sales would go directly to public lands along the eastern slopes to help upgrade infrastructure, support conservation and provide more enforcement officers.
The amendments are currently awaiting third reading in the legislature, which has been closed due to the pandemic’s third wave. If passed, the fees will come into effect June 1.
Gary Clark, president of the Quad Squad in Crowsnest Pass, says the concept will help improve campers’ access to facilities and overall experience enjoying the backcountry.
“People just expect the government to do it, and our thought process was that if we’re using it then we should be paying a small fee going towards it,” he says.
Although the fees won’t fund any of the club activities, Mr. Clark says many outdoor recreational groups support the province’s implementation of fees to support infrastructure.
Quad Squad, with its membership of about 300, manages over 1,300 kilometres of trails and 70 bridges in the area. The group has been in talks with the provincial government about a potential trail act to be introduced sometime this fall, which would charge trail users a fee to access backcountry trails.
The money would then be redistributed among various ATV, snowmobile and mountain biking groups to fund their infrastructure activities.
Hiring more enforcement officers, Mr. Clark adds, is also a good decision. “It’ll make it a safer, quieter place for everybody, not just OHVers but anybody who’s random camping,” he says.
Enforcement for the passes would fall under the responsibility of conservation officers with Environment and Parks. Though not in charge of checking people’s passes, Fish and Wildlife officer John Clark says additional officers in Alberta’s backcountry is a good call.
“Last year was nuts,” he says. “We’ve just seen way more people. Every spot was taken, like in every little nook and cranny people were in it.”
The influx of people comes with a need to educate those who are unfamiliar with the rules and regulations, as well as dealing with an increased amount of illegal activities.
“The laws still apply out here,” says Officer Clark.
The government is also imposing a $15 a day or $90 annual vehicle pass for the Kananaskis area. Random campers in Kananaskis will be required to purchase the vehicle pass but not the random-camping pass.
The Kananaskis Conservation Pass will also cover infrastructure and enforcement needs and will go on sale online June 1.
First Nations individuals and recipients of AISH are exempt from the vehicle pass.
Members of the Opposition say both passes unfairly charge Albertans to access public land that belongs to them. Though money needs to be invested in these areas to deal with growing amounts of visitors, the government could find the necessary funds without charging families, says Marlin Schmidt, the NDP critic for environment and parks.
“Jason Nixon [minister of environment and parks] can find $30 million annually by scrapping his idiotic energy war room,” says Mr. Schmidt. “That will save more than enough to end this nickel-and-diming of Alberta families with park fees.”
Additional information on the random-camping pass can be found online at bit.ly/Camp_pass. Information on the Kananaskis vehicle pass is available at bit.ly/Kan_pass.
Sean Oliver, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze