Alberta’s minister of environment and parks is refuting the claims about the closure or partial closure of 20 Alberta parks made by a group of outdoor store owners in a letter made public Friday morning.
The general managers from Campers Village and Track ‘N Trail and the president of The Fishin’ Hole issued the letter, urging Premier Jason Kenney and Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon to reverse the decision about the parks.
According to the letter, the three believe in the “intrinsic natural value of Alberta’s provincial parks and natural spaces.” (Read the full letter below)
“These spaces belong to all Albertans and to the Indigenous peoples who were the caretakers of this land long before Alberta was a province of Canada,” the letter reads.
“The people deserve to have a say in how these natural spaces are managed, protected and celebrated.”
The government announced last week it plans to close or partially close 20 parks and hand off the management of another 164 to outside groups in an attempt to save taxpayers money, calling it a “financially struggling system.”
The move has been met with much opposition from Albertans who enjoy the parks, to the Rural Municipalities Association who says the move is another “download” to municipalities from the provincial government.
“Hundreds of Alberta businesses depend on the economic benefits that access to Alberta Parks and natural spaces create, from providing outdoor gear and recreational vehicles, to offering training, tours and experiences,” the letter reads.
“The potential savings of $5 million from a budget in excess of $56 billion is negligible and will have an impact on the quality of people’s lives that far exceeds the financial savings to taxpayers.”
In a statement issued on Twitter on Friday afternoon, Nixon said the claims made by the group in the letter cause “unnecessary anxiety and dismay” for the Albertans who love the outdoors.
“The Alberta government is not selling crown land as part of the parks restructuring,” Nixon wrote. “That is a false statement. We are working on partnerships with organizations, including municipalities, First Nations and non-profit organizations, as well as contract and partner (sic) to run underutilized infrastructure in our system in more productive and taxpayer-friendly ways.”
“We reject the idea that it is only government that is able to provide quality services at parks day use and camping areas.”
According to the group of stores, it was estimated that those who enjoy Alberta’s outdoors contributed $800 million to the Alberta economy in 2008.
The letter also points to the government’s objective to begin easing the province’s dependency on oil and gas and to increase tourism.
“We have great potential in this area considering the incredible natural habitat we enjoy in Alberta, and this decision to reduce access to that habitat seems counter-productive to reaching that goal,” it reads.
“The upside is not only promoting our province to outside tourists but motivating Albertans to make more use of the wild spaces we have right here at home.
“We don’t have to designate an area a park in order to ensure good stewardship or economic opportunities for Albertans,” Nixon said.
A spokesperson with Alberta Environment and Parks said Thursday that despite the closure or partial of the parks, the public will still have access to the lands barring any safety issues with aging infrastructure.
“To be clear, the lands will remain open and accessible to Albertans for responsible use and recreation,” Jess Sinclair said in a statement.
LISTEN: Outdoor retailers are speaking out on proposed changes to Alberta’s provincial parks
Doug Dea is the general manager with Campers Village in Calgary, one of the stores that signed the letter Friday morning.
Dea said in an interview on News Talk 770 Friday afternoon, since signing the letter he’s been inundated with support.
“We’ve received a lot of feedback from our customers through our Facebook and social media channels. I’ve also received direct emails from customers supporting us.”
Dea said he signed the letter with hopes the government will reconsider and further engage with the public before making any permanent decisions.
“I’d like to see that the government would reverse this decision, and then open up and have a consultation with Albertans, and find out their feelings on these parks,” he said.
“Everybody’s aware of cost right now and everybody is trying to be sensitive to that but once these parks are closed… Those spaces are going to be gone for future generations. I think that will be a real shame and really short-sighted.”
He believes there are many benefits to provincial parks that the government isn’t taking into account.
“We feel that natural spaces and the opportunity to spend time outdoors is so important to people’s health and wellness,” Dea said.
“We felt it was important and that we should speak up.”
- Kehiwin Provincial Recreation Area near St. Paul
- Running Lake Provincial Recreation Area north of Worsley
- Stoney Lake Provincial Recreation Area north of Fairview
- Little Fish Lake Provincial Recreation Area east of Drumheller
- Crow Lake Provincial Recreation Area south of Fort McMurray
- Bleriot Ferry Provincial Recreation Area north of Drumheller
- Green Valley Provincial Park east of Peace River
- Twin Lake Provincial Recreation Area north of Manning
- Sheep Creek Provincial Recreation Area north of Grande Cache
- Bow Valley Provincial Park west of Calgary
- Gooseberry Provincial Recreation Area west of Bragg Creek
- Gooseberry Lake Provincial Park north of Consort
- Sulphur Lake Provincial Recreation Area north of Peace River
- Engstrom Lake Provincial Recreation Area south of Fort McMurray
- Chain Lakes Provincial Recreation Area north of Athabasca
- Lawrence Lake Provincial Recreation Area north of Athabasca
- Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park southeast of Red Deer
- Notikewin Provincial Park north of Manning
- Smoky River South Provincial Recreation Area west of Grande Cache
- Dinosaur Provincial Park northeast of Brooks
– With a file from Heide Pearson, Global News