Recreational groups given power to maintain, create trails under new bill

·2 min read
The Alberta government wants to protect the environment while keeping trails open for OHV riders.  (CBC - image credit)
The Alberta government wants to protect the environment while keeping trails open for OHV riders. (CBC - image credit)

Recreational user groups are being given more authority to manage and maintain trails on public lands under a new bill introduced in the Alberta legislature Tuesday.

Bill 79, the Trails Act, aims to impose order on what has been a wild west of trails on public lands outside provincial parks, where a lack of oversight has led to unregulated use of off-highway vehicles.

"Decades of industrial activity in Alberta has resulted in a network of recreation trails that were not planned or intended for ongoing use," said a news release. "These trails are often on sensitive soils, such as wet areas, and do not have bridges or other appropriate water course crossings to protect critical aquatic habitat."

If passed, the act would try to impose order on all public lands — and particularly the 80 per cent that are not a Public Land Use Zone (PLUZ). The Alberta government said it believes maintained and well-appointed trails will draw users away from less-used areas.

Bill 79 gives the environment and parks minister the power to designate trails on public lands, to restrict access and to prescribe specific uses like hiking, snowmobiling and horseback or OHV riding.

The minister can have management plans prepared for new trails and appoint a third-party manager to oversee them.

The bill also allows the province to set up agreements with recreational groups and municipalities to operate and maintain trails as well a construct bridges, shelters and other structures.

"This will provide, we hope, an increase in designated trails that meet environmental standards all across our landscape for a variety of user groups," said Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon.

NDP critic Marlin Schmidt said Bill 79 gives Nixon more power over trails, but he doesn't trust the minister will do the right thing.

"Clearly Albertans are skeptical of this minister's track record with managing our public lands," Schmidt said in a news release.

"He wanted to open up our beautiful Rocky Mountains for coal mining, he imposed a fee on nature with the Kananaskis Conservation Pass, and he tried to sell or close more than 170 Alberta parks."

Measures in Bill 79 are estimated to cost $4.5 million a year. The government plans to provide funding to recreation groups to help manage trails.

Nixon said the government is looking at having registration fees for OHVs go directly to conservation efforts.

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