Albertans accessing Kananaskis Country without a provincial park pass will be facing fines, effective Friday.
“As of today, we are now moving towards having automated automatic licence plate reader technology deployed in the park,” Michael Roycroft, Alberta Parks’ regional director of Kananaskis, told Global News. “We have vehicles out there today, scanning licence plates.
“So we’re now moving into the more formalized enforcement approach.”
That comes after a year of education and raising awareness about the park passes.
“We anticipate that folks will not risk the $180 fine. Instead, they will buy the $90 season pass or $15 daypass,” Roycroft said.
He said the $13 million raised in the first year of the park passes has gone “directly back” to improving services and facilities for visiting wilderness enthusiasts.
Derek Ryder, spokesperson for the Friends of Kananaskis Country, said investment in the area is long overdue.
“A lot of K-Country — whether it be the park space, or the public land space — had investments done in the 1980s. And that’s a long time ago,” he said. “And it’s necessary to recreate and reinvent some of this stuff and rebuild it.”
Ryder said traffic through the parks has steadily grown in past years.
“But then it exploded with the pandemic,” he said. “The moment everybody could get out, they went out. And I think they discovered how wonderful K-Country is.”
On Wednesday, Alberta Parks posted a summary of expenditures in K-Country, which included staffing, operations, conservation officers, trail grooming and maintenance, and plans for the $17.5-million Canmore Nordic Centre renovations.
“I think the graphic that Alberta Parks put out earlier this week raises more questions than it answers,” Marlin Schmidt, NDP MLA for Edmonton-Gold Bar, said Friday. “It talks about investments that were made that would have occurred in any case, with or without the K-Country pass.
“They’re trying to make it add up when it doesn’t actually add up.”
Schmidt said he has pressed the government on specifics like how many conservation officers were funded from the Kananaskis Conservation Pass, and tried to get legislation through to ensure accounting transparency, to no result.
NDP promises to scrap K-Country pass fees
On the day enforcement of those provincial park passes came into effect, the Alberta NDP promised to scrap the park fees if it is elected in the May 2023 provincial election.
“Since the UCP turned K-Country into pay country, we have seen that the use of that money has not been remotely transparent,” NDP Leader Rachel Notley said. “They claimed that all the revenues would go back into Kananaskis, but then they turned around and rejected our attempts to guarantee that in legislation.
“So the fact is, we don’t know how the money is being used and whether it’s actually leading to higher investment in the park or not.”
The NDP leader said the pre-UCP practice of covering park maintenance and improvements through the provincial budget should go back in place.
“That’s why people pay taxes. There are certain things that as Albertans we decide we should all be able to share, regardless of how much money we have in our pockets: our education, our health care and in this case, our beautiful provincial mountain parks.”
Notley added the passes create a barrier for families to access the park at a time when budgets are already facing inflationary pressures.
“We know that times are tough and money is tight, and that at some point, for many families, camping or day hikes will be the only vacation they can afford this summer. So we don’t need to be doing things to make it even more expensive.”
Notley brought up the storied history of the area: it ostensibly took just one helicopter ride for then-premier Peter Lougheed for him to decide to make it a universally-accessible park.
“Kananaskis Park was a park that was developed by the people of Alberta, for the people of Alberta on the principle that everybody should be able to access it,” she said. “And it has functioned that way successfully since it was first opened in line with the vision that (former) premier Peter Lougheed had.”
–with files from Sarah Offin, Global News
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