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Alberta delays release of guidelines on parks partnerships due to COVID-19 pandemic

A picture of Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park.
A picture of Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park taken on Sept. 22, 2010 by Alberta Parks. Alberta Parks

The Alberta government has delayed information on its plan to hand off dozens of parks and recreation sites to third-party managers.

Guidelines on how the partnerships are to work were supposed to have been released Monday.

READ MORE: Province to release details on ‘partnership rules’ for 164 Alberta Parks it no longer wants

“Our parks employees have been focused on doing important work related to shutting down and reopening parks in light of COVID-19 ,” said Jess Sinclair, spokeswoman for Alberta Environment Minister Jason Nixon.

“We will be have more to say about the release of our parks and public lands plans closer to the end of the month.”

Nixon has said the United Conservative government plans to fully or partially close 20 provincial parks and hand off another 164 to third-party managers. Sites for which no manager can be found will lose park status and revert to general Crown land, which can be sold.

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That’s about 16,000 hectares — small compared with the province’s total park system, but about one-third the number of sites the province manages. Budget documents suggest the move would save about $5 million.

The plan has raised deep concerns. Many have called for public consultations before a change of such magnitude is made to Alberta’s parks.

One online petition had more than 8,000 signatures within days of the announcement. At least 5,000 Albertans have written Nixon through the website of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.

READ MORE: Alberta outdoor stores pen letter to government to reverse parks decision

The society has also held online town halls and rallies, which it says have been attended by hundreds. Managers of several outdoor retailers have protested.

Polling has also suggested a large majority of Albertans object to closing parks or removing them from the system.