|A draft management plan for some of Kananaskis Countrys most popular areas is drawing praise from environmentalists, but some recreationalists say the proposed regulations are too strict.
The proposed plan to guide use of Peter Lougheed Provincial Park and Spray Valley Provincial Park puts preservation of the area ahead of recreation and tourism, something that has pleased environmentalists concerned about the ecological impact of human use in the area.
"Considering the proximity of Calgary and Canmore, population-wise, and the significant recreation opportunities available in provincial parks areas and access to them, and the impact of (human and wildlife) conflicts, we were very, very pleased to see the primary management objective is to maintain ecological integrity," says Lara Smandych, a biologist with the Alberta Wilderness Association. "Albertans obviously enjoy these areas, but theres also a demand for these facilities. Its a very tough balance."
The plan says there will be little new development in the region, but existing facilities will be maintained including campsites, trails and existing recreation facilities. Restrictions on mountain biking and horseback riding in some regions will still be enforced, and the plan makes a renewed pledge to reduce human-bear encounters by educating users and temporarily closing areas where conflicts are likely.
However, development isnt totally outlawed under the plan. It leaves open the possibility of limited expansions of two lodges in the region, Mount Engadine Lodge and William Watson Lodge. The plan also states that "one other site in the Spray Valley Provincial Park will be identified by government staff for possible future development of one additional small scale lodge."
Such statements worry Smandych. "Were just concerned (those developments) dont meet the objective (of preservation)," she says.
Others, however, think the plan overlooks other low-impact recreation opportunities, specifically in its prohibition of off-highway vehicles.
Darryl Copithorne, of the Alberta United Recreationists Society, says his group isnt pushing the government to open the region to all off-highway vehicles, but he thinks some existing trails should be opened to snowmobiles.
"Snowmobiles are zero-impact and the government should wake up and realize it. Theyre really not getting it on snowmobiles," Copithorne says.
"Its a multimillion-dollar loss to the government because (snowmobilers) head to B.C. They could be spending their money in K-Country like they did 20 years ago."
Cheryl Robb, a spokesperson for Alberta Community Development, says the management plan was created after gathering public input into the priorities of the parks, and if there are parts of the plan the public isn't happy with, they will be refined after another public input period.
"From what we know of uses of the area, its a lot of local users, thats why we like to get public consultation from local areas," Robb says.
Peter Lougheed Park and Spray Valley Provincial Park make up a huge portion of Kananaskis Country. They are bordered by the B.C. border, Bow Valley Wildland Park to the north and Elbow-Sheep Wildland Park to the east. The areas rugged beauty continues to attract users from all over southern Alberta.
Smandych, however, says if the Alberta government can continue to balance preservation and recreation, the area can be maintained.
"They are looking at more traditional recreational opportunities camping, picnicking and hiking," Smandych says. "I think (preservation and recreation) are quite compatible."
The provincial government is accepting public comment on the plan. Copies are available by calling toll free 310-0000 then 403-678-5500 ext. 276. Copies can also be downloaded online at www.cd.gov.ab.ca.