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Alberta wants to hand off management of 164 provincial parks to focus spending on ‘high-value areas’

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WATCH: The Alberta government is looking to offload the management of some provincial parks to help cut back on costs. Jill Croteau has the details.

The Alberta government wants to hand off management of 164 provincially run parks to outside groups.

“Modernizing Alberta’s parks system is long overdue,” Jess Sinclair, spokeswoman for Environment Minister Jason Nixon, said Friday.

“Government is subsidizing a financially struggling system year after year, while attempting to ensure maintenance, programs and services remain at a high level.”

Few details have been released about the plan hinted at in Thursday’s budget.

“Alberta Parks envisions a system managed by many partners and will seek to increase partnerships with municipalities, Indigenous communities and non-profit societies to assist with provision of park operations and quality visitor experiences,” says Alberta Environment’s business plan.

“This will allow for focused spending in high-value areas (conservation, recreation, tourism) of the parks system and improved leveraging of resources.”

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READ MORE: Alberta budget 2020 winners and losers

Sinclair said the United Conservative government will begin looking for partners to run the parks in May. (The list of which parks are to handed off is at the bottom of this story.)

Alberta currently manages 473 provincial parks, wildland provincial parks, provincial recreation areas, ecological reserves, wilderness areas, natural areas and heritage rangelands.

The budget forecasts a $4-million cut to parks over the next three years.

Critics said the plan reduces preservation of Alberta’s outdoors to a profit-and-loss calculation.

“It is an outrageous way to look at a park system,” said Marlin Schmidt, environment critic for the Opposition New Democrats. “They shouldn’t be seen as a cost subsidy. It’s how we preserve our natural heritage for future generations.”

Carolyn Campbell of the Alberta Wilderness Association agreed.

“We are supportive if there are partnerships with municipalities or Indigenous groups that would still be very high-quality experiences,” she said.

“But to think of it within a system of parks as a profit centre or parks as needing to be money-making — that risks losing their primary purpose of investments in health and well-being for Albertans.”

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READ MORE: Letting ski resort sell mountain water from park is risky: environmentalists

An extensive 2017 survey of thousands of Albertans found that 90 per cent of respondents agreed that preservation of landscapes, plants and animals was an important purpose of parks. About 75 per cent said it was important a park contribute to the local economy.

About 42 per cent said admission or registration fees were already a barrier to enjoying Alberta parks.

READ MORE: New Alberta parks create world’s largest boreal forest preserve: government

Schmidt said handing off parks management risks the quality of the province’s tourism offerings.

“If we are out there selling Alberta as a destination for people to come and visit, then it’s our responsibility as the province of Alberta to make sure that those tourists have a high-quality tourist experience.

“The system that they’re envisioning for us will have varying levels of quality. The province won’t be able to hold them accountable and I’m afraid that tourism will suffer as a result of this patchwork of provincial parks managers they’re going to create.”

It’s another example of the provincial government downloading costs onto municipalities, Schmidt said.

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The province has already told municipalities they’ll have to pick up costs for extra policing. As well, many are in dire financial straits because energy companies haven’t been paying their tax bills.

“Municipalities don’t have money to look after these parks,” said Schmidt.

Last week, Global News reached out to the province to find out why reservations had not yet been opened, as in recent years reservations for front-country campsites within Alberta Parks have opened during the first week of February.

At that time, Sinclair said the province has been “hard at work” gearing up for the upcoming camping season.

READ MORE: Alberta Parks yet to open campsite reservations for 2020 camping season

Sites to be removed from Alberta Parks system 

  1. Aylmer Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  2. Beaverdam Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  3. Big Berland Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  4. Big Elbow Provincial Recreation Area (overnight) ***
  5. Big Mountain Creek Provincial Recreation Area (group use)
  6. Bigelow Reservoir Provincial Recreation Area (day use)
  7. Bleriot Ferry Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  8. Brazeau Reservoir Provincial Recreation Area (overnight) + group use
  9. Brazeau River Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  10. Brown Creek Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  11. Buffalo Lake Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  12. Buffalo Tower Provincial Recreation Area (day use)
  13. Bullshead Reservoir Provincial Recreation Area (day use)
  14. Burnt Timber Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  15. Cartier Creek Provincial Recreation Area (overnight + group use)
  16. Cat Creek Provincial Recreation Area (day use)
  17. Cataract Creek Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  18. Chain Lakes Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  19. Chambers Creek Group Camp Provincial Recreation Area (group use)
  20. Chambers Creek Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  21. Chin Coulee Provincial Recreation Area (group use)
  22. Chisholm Provincial Recreation Area (previously closed)
  23. Chrystina Lake Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  24. Clifford E. Lee Natural Area (day use)
  25. Coal Lake North Provincial Recreation Area (day use)
  26. Cow Lake Natural Area (day use)
  27. Crane Meadow Provincial Recreation Area (previously closed)
  28. Dawson Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  29. Deer Creek Provincial Recreation Area (group use)
  30. Demmitt Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  31. Dry Haven Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  32. Dutch Creek Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  33. Edith Lake Provincial Recreation Area (day use)
  34. Elk Creek Fish Pond Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  35. Elk Creek Provincial Recreation Area (day use)
  36. Elk River Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  37. Engstrom Lake Provincial Recreation Area (day use)
  38. Etherington Creek Provincial Recreation Area (overnight + group use)
  39. Eyrie Gap Provincial Recreation Area (previously closed)
  40. Fairfax Lake Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  41. Fallen Timber Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  42. Fallen Timber South Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  43. Fawcett Lake Provincial Recreation Area (overnight + group use)
  44. Fir Creek Provincial Recreation Area (previously closed)
  45. Fisher Creek Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  46. Fitzsimmons Creek Provincial Recreation Area (day use)
  47. Fort Vermilion Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  48. Freeman River Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  49. Ghost Airstrip Provincial Recreation Area (overnight + group use)
  50. Ghost Reservoir Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  51. Gooseberry Lake Provincial Park (overnight) + group use
  52. Greenford Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  53. Gunn Provincial Recreation Area (previously closed)
  54. Harlech Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  55. Heart River Dam Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  56. Highwood Compound Provincial Recreation Area (previously closed)
  57. Highwood Junction Provincial Recreation Area (day use)
  58. Highwood Provincial Recreation Area (day use)
  59. Highwood River Natural Area (day use)
  60. Honeymoon Creek Provincial Recreation Area (group use)
  61. Horburg Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  62. Hornbeck Creek Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  63. Indian Graves Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  64. Iosegun Lake Provincial Recreation Area (overnight) + group use
  65. Island Lake Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  66. J. Collett Natural Area (day use)
  67. Jackfish Lake Provincial Recreation Area (overnight + group use)
  68. James-Wilson Provincial Recreation Area (overnight + group use)
  69. Jensen Reservoir Provincial Recreation Area (day use)
  70. Jumpingpound Creek Provincial Recreation Area (previously closed)
  71. Kakwa River Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  72. Kehiwin Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  73. Kinbrook Island Provincial Park (overnight) + group use
  74. Lantern Creek Provincial Recreation Area (day use)
  75. Lineham Provincial Recreation Area (day use)
  76. Little Bow Reservoir Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  77. Little Fish Lake Provincial Park (overnight)
  78. Little Smoky River Provincial Recreation Area (previously closed)
  79. Little Sundance Creek Provincial Recreation Area (group use)
  80. Livingstone Falls Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  81. Lovett River Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  82. Lundbreck Falls Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  83. Lusk Creek Provincial Recreation Area (day use)
  84. Mallaig Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  85. Maycroft Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  86. McLeod River Provincial Recreation Area (overnight + group use)
  87. Mesa Butte Provincial Recreation Area (overnight + group use)
  88. Michelle Reservoir Provincial Recreation Area (day use)
  89. Mist Creek Provincial Recreation Area (day use)
  90. Mitchell Lake Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  91. Moose Mountain Trailhead Provincial Recreation Area (day use)
  92. Muriel Lake Provincial Recreation Area (previously closed)
  93. Newbrook Provincial Recreation Area (previously closed)
  94. Nojack Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  95. North Bruderheim Provincial Recreation Area (day use)
  96. North Fork Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  97. North Ram River Provincial Recreation Area (previously closed)
  98. Northwest of Bruderheim Natural Area (day use)
  99. O’Brien Provincial Park (day use)
  100. Old Baldy Pass Trail Provincial Recreation Area (day use)
  101. Oldman Dam Provincial Recreation Area (overnight + group use)
  102. Oldman River North Provincial Recreation Area (overnight + group use)
  103. Oldman River Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  104. Paddle River Dam Provincial Recreation Area (day use)
  105. Park Lake Provincial Park (overnight)
  106. Peace River Provincial Recreation Area (previously closed)
  107. Peaceful Valley Provincial Recreation Area (day use)
  108. Pembina Forks Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  109. Picklejar Provincial Recreation Area (previously closed)
  110. Pine Grove Provincial Recreation Area (group use)
  111. Pines Provincial Recreation Area (previously closed)
  112. Pinetop Provincial Recreation Area (day use)
  113. Prairie Creek Group Camp Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  114. Prairie Creek Provincial Recreation Area (group use)
  115. Racehorse Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  116. Rainbow Lake Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  117. Raven Provincial Recreation Area (closed)
  118. Red Deer River Provincial Recreation Area (overnight + group use)
  119. Red Lodge Provincial Park (overnight) + group use
  120. Riverlot 56 Natural Area (day use)
  121. Rochon Sands Provincial Park (overnight) + group use
  122. Saunders Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  123. Sentinel Provincial Recreation Area (day use)
  124. Seven Mile Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  125. Sheep Creek Natural Area (day use)
  126. Sheep Creek Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  127. Sherwood Park Natural Area (day use)
  128. Shunda Viewpoint Provincial Recreation Area (group use)
  129. Shuttler Flats Provincial Recreation Area (group use)
  130. Sibbald Lake Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  131. Sibbald Meadows Pond Provincial Recreation Area (day use)
  132. Sibbald Viewpoint Provincial Recreation Area (day use)
  133. Simonette River Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  134. Smoke Lake Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  135. Smoky River South Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  136. South Ghost Provincial Recreation Area (day use)
  137. Southview Provincial Recreation Area (day use)
  138. Stoney Creek Provincial Recreation Area (group use)
  139. Strachan Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  140. Strathcona Science Provincial Park (day use)
  141. Strawberry Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  142. Tay River Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  143. The Narrows Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  144. Tillebrook Provincial Park (overnight)
  145. Trapper Lea’s Cabin Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  146. Travers Reservoir Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  147. Trout Pond Provincial Recreation Area (day use)
  148. Twin Lakes Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  149. Waiparous Creek Group Camp Provincial Recreation Area (group use)
  150. Waiparous Creek Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  151. Waiparous Valley Viewpoint Provincial Recreation Area (day use)
  152. Ware Creek Provincial Recreation Area (day use)
  153. Waterton Reservoir Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  154. Watson Creek Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  155. Weald Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  156. Wild Horse Provincial Recreation Area (group use)
  157. Wildcat Island Natural Area (day use)
  158. Wildhay Provincial Recreation Area (group use)
  159. Wildhorse Lake Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  160. Wildhorse Provincial Recreation Area (previously closed)
  161. Williamson Provincial Park (overnight)
  162. Wolf Creek Provincial Recreation Area (previously closed)
  163. Wolf Lake Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)
  164. Wolf Lake West Provincial Recreation Area (overnight)

*** The province said the deregulation of Big Elbow PRA is administrative only with no public impact, as the site designation overlaps with Don Getty Wildland Provincial Park. If deregulated, Big Elbow PRA’s backcountry campground would remain open, and be integrated and managed as part of Don Getty Wildland Provincial Park.

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— With files from Caley Ramsay, Global News