April 23rd, 2017

Castle a potential tourist destination, SACPA told


By Mabell, Dave on March 3, 2017.

Dave Mabell

Lethbridge Herald

dmabell@lethbridgeherald.com

Southern Alberta’s new provincial parks will become a tourist destination. And Castle Mountain, a Lethbridge audience was told, could become a major year-round resort.

Those initiatives will follow the Alberta government’s efforts to repair the environmental damage done by logging and off-road vehicles, a Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs audience learned, Thursday.

To provide appropriate locations for off-road vehicle use, speakers noted, the environment and parks ministry is considering land on the Porcupine Hills and Livingstone Range.

Off-road “quad” owners will have another year before their trails begin to be closed down, said Connie Simmons, an environmental educator working on the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative. That process will take three to five years, providing time for new off-road areas to be identified and opened.

“There is a way to work together,” she said.

Off-road vehicle owners were included in the panel drawing up a draft set of management plans, Simmons pointed out. Their concerns “were very well aired during the process.”

The impacts of uncontrolled off-road vehicle use in the Castle region have also been thoroughly documented, speakers observed.

Andrea Hlady, president of the Castle-Crown Wilderness Coalition, saidthe management plan’s vision is to create a world-class protected area that complements Waterton Lakes National Park, directly south. Both Waterton and adjacent Glacier National Park (U.S.) are operating at near-capacity levels, she said.

Alberta’s culture and tourism ministry had already committed economic development funds to the province’s southwest corner, she said.

While the Shell Oil plant south of Pincher Creek will be winding down operations, Simmons said, she predicted the town’s economy will grow as recreation and tourism facilities in the new Castle parks are upgraded and protected.

The speakers cited studies showing a strong majority of tourists and visitors coming to protected parks are looking for an outdoor experience that’s quiet – not motorized.

They explained the busiest part of the valley, the Castle Mountain ski resort, is part of the M.D. of Pincher Creek – and not included in either of the new parks. That will allow its operators to expand operations as the number of visitors grows year-round.

“I think Castle Mountain has a great opportunity ahead,” Hlady said.

Earlier this week, the speakers noted, the provincial government extended the public response time for the management plan by another month. While the off-road vehicle users have been vocal with their issues, they said others who enjoy the Castle area should make their views known as well.

Albertans can simply go online – ABParks.PlanComments@gov.ab.ca – to register their views.

“You need to speak up,” Hlady said. “It’s always easier to rally against something.”

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