This picture of Abraham Lake from Hood Doo Creek was taken by reader Craig Saunders. AEP announced Friday proposed changes to Bighorn Country, including a $40 million investment over five years to the area, plus three new provincial parks. Photo by Craig Saunders

Alberta proposes $40 million investment into Bighorn Country over five years

Province seeks feedback on the proposal which brings 3 new provincial parks to the area

Alberta proposes a $40 million investment into Bighorn Country over the next five years.

The announcement came Friday afternoon with Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) proposing a mix of parks and public lands, “…that would preserve natural landscapes while supporting a wide range of world-class tourism and recreation opportunities,” states the release.

For AEP it appears improvements and changes could bring tourism potential. The ministry wants to hear from Albertans on the proposal through a website and survey (see links below).

Part of the $40 million would also go to: “The refurbishment of 240 existing campsites and the construction of more than 150 new campsites. This would also include investment in parking lots, trails and staging areas,” states the release.

The province also proposes what it calls direct consultation on extending tourism leases beyond 25-years, “…to bolster private investment in tourism infrastructure…”

“Bighorn Country contains some of the greatest unrealized potential in Alberta for its unique ecosystems and stunning landscapes,” states the four-page proposal. “It is a source of clean drinking water and home to a large variety of plants and animals including rare and at-risk species.”

The goal is to conserve that area by designating it a new “Wildland Provincial Park”. Among the proposed changes to the land-use zones, the province says it would protect headwaters and the biodiversity while also bringing in outdoor recreation, plus support the “unrealized tourism potential.”

Read More: AEP’s Bighorn Country Proposal

Read More: Take the Bighorn Country Survey

Three new provincial parks are proposed: The David Thompson Provincial Park, The North Saskatchewan River Provincial Park, and the Ya Ha Tinda Provincial Park. These parks would see infrastructure investment.

The proposal discusses 11 key areas and the allowed uses for them. For instance, the “Bighorn Wildlife Provincial Park” would bring low-impact backcountry recreation while allowing “high-quality hunting and fishing.”

Lacombe-Ponoka MLA Ron Orr said that he hasn’t had a full review of the proposal, however, his worry with the whole process is that central Albertans will not be considered.

“Good for them if they actually do (listen) but their track record isn’t good,” said Orr.

He also worries that the province may have already made its mind on the area.

That being said, Orr feels there is a need to review policy in Bighorn Country due to aging policies and increased traffic and usage. He agrees that some review needs to be made and that the UCP would also include a review.

“I think it needs to involve reasonable, actual engagement,” stated Orr.

Read More: MLA Ron Orr speaks to provincial changes to the Bighorn area

Shortly after the announcement the Alberta hiking Association, which represents 21 hiking clubs in the province, sent out a press release speaking in favour of the proposal. Murray Fierheller, AHA chairperson, said their member enjoy the area and its hiking potential and tourist potential. “This is like a new ‘Kananaskis’ for central Alberta and a great day for all Albertans who hike, camp, hunt, fish and trail ride.”

Included in the proposal are three provincial recreation areas: Snow Creek, Bighorn Dam and Hummingbird. These would allow for staging areas of ATVs and snowmobiles.

Within each area the AEP outlines uses of visitor experiences, which allow for hunting use of recreation off-highway vehicles as well as other permitted uses. The list includes items such as what types of commercial uses are allowed. There is quite a bit that would be allowed, according to the proposal.

The proposal adds 400,000 hectares of protected land and increases overall protection in Alberta to 15.2 per cent, up from 14.6 per cent.



jeff.heyden-kaye@ponokanews.com

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