The J.J. Collett Natural Area is officially off-limits to parking.
The provincial government ordered all vehicle access to parks in Alberta closed on March 27, including parking lots and staging areas, as part of the precautions surrounding the COVID-19 crisis.
Barricades and signs went up at the park, located in Lacombe County just south of Morningside, on March 31. This comes after a number of vehicles were witnessed in the parking area just a couple of days earlier.
A provincial press release stated that people are still welcome to visit the park for walks, but they should be dropped off and then picked up later, and should observe the physical distancing measures with no mass gatherings.
Jack Surbey, president of J.J. Collett Natural Area Foundation, confirmed the park remains under the jurisdiction of Alberta Parks in spite of the announcement made on March 3.
“The province wasn’t due to release guidelines for the de-listing of parks and creation of partnerships until May 1,” Surbey said.
“With what’s going on right now, it’s all up in the air. We don’t know what is going to happen, but it’s our hope that everything works out and we can keep the area the same as it has been.”
He added the foundation would definitely like to partner with some other group or municipality, but there remains uncertainty if the transfer will even take place.
As there are no services at J. J. Collett, the provincial government doesn’t spend any operating funds on the park. However, the foundation does raise money to operate its school programming and to help pay for projects and other work that is all done by volunteers.
“The only money put in comes from grants we apply for to get some projects done. There is nothing that comes in for normal maintenance,” Surbey said.
“There is 600 acres with 18 km of trials, so there is lots of space to the point where you might not see anyone. We continue to get lots of support including email and letters, so the hope is this will also work out in the end.”
As for enforcement of the ban on parking, even along nearby roads, Surbey added that Alberta Parks have said they will check in on things at times and that Lacombe County bylaw services also sometimes make patrols on the county roads, especially if there are complaints.
“In our past experience, those patrols aren’t always done as much as they might be,” he said.
“I really don’t know how much that will happen and people may just find a place to park nearby and walk in.”
Although, Surbey added, people may be subject to fines for failing to follow the directions.