Although J.J. Collett Natural Area, located near Morningside, is on the province’s list of parks and natural areas being removed from the system, that doesn’t necessarily mean any big changes are in the site’s future.
That according to Lacombe-Ponoka MLA Ron Orr, who says it’s unlikely the area would lose its protected status or lose any public usage because of the change.
If the land is taken over by a partner or a municipality, it will probably stipulate in the agreement that the land stay in use for the public good, he says.
“Essentially it’s the parks department giving more local control for parks that are not revenue positive,” said Orr in an interview March 9.
J.J. Collett is currently operated and maintained by the J.J. Collett Natural Area Foundation and has been since 1985. The foundation is a volunteer steward group that preserves the land and provides education about the habitat.
The natural area is 635 acres and consists of 18 km of maintained trails.
Orr says the foundation has done a “fantastic” job maintaining the area with its volunteer work and fundraising efforts, and removing J.J. Collett from the parks system may even give the foundation more decision-making control.
The land could potentially be taken over by a public agency or a municipality such as Lacombe County. If there is no interested party, the area would then remain on the government’s books, says Orr.
More details are coming on how and where to apply to make proposals to take over the ousted parks and areas.
Orr says he has offered to meet with the members of the J.J. Collett Natural Area Foundation once those details are available.
A government news release says the sites getting the axe are “‘mainly small and underutilized provincial recreation areas.”
Although the list contains 164 park spaces, Orr says this amounts to only 0.3 per cent of the total provincial parks and natural areas.
Jason Nixon, MLA for Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre and Minister of Environment and Parks, stated in a press release that all park spaces to be removed from the park system will remain wholly as crown land.
“Alberta have expressed an interest in taking a more active role in the operation of some areas traditionally run by the province,” said Nixon.
“In order to facilitate this, and to renew our commitment to our ‘crown jewel’ destinations, we will be offering Albertans, non-profits and First Nations the opportunity to work with our government and with parks societies on exploring these important partnerships.”
Some questions and concerns remain, however, as the foundation waits to hear more.
“We don’t want to lose the area for sure,” said Jack Surbey, president of the J.J. Collett Natural Area Foundation.
“We’d be happy to partner with someone.”
The foundation recently received a letter from Orr saying that proposal details will come in the mail by May 1, 2020.
The letter stated the natural area is on the list for sites that are having their status changed, and that the government is looking for partners to take over.
The foundation receives no funding to operate and maintain the trails in the area, but applies for grants for building projects and solicits donations from businesses to make improvements, such as adding kiosks, boardwalks and gazebos.
All trail maintenance is done by either one of the nine board members, or the foundation’s 100 member-volunteers.
As to why the government wants to get J.J. Collett off its books, Surbey can only speculate. He wonders if it has to do with the paper work involved with approving permits, or just about making money through a sale.
As it is, anyone wishing to use the area for a use other than walking the trails, such as for a marathon run or horse grazing, must apply for a permit.
“Maybe that’s what they don’t want.”
According to Surbey, Jack Collett sold the land to the government on the condition that it be used as a natural area, as a tribute to his son, who passed, who was a naturalist.
Surbey believes the government wishes J.J. Collett to stay as a natural area for the public good, he says he hopes that’s the case.
“It’s hard to comment until we hear more.”