August 6th, 2020

The (not so) Great Alberta Parks Clearance Sale


By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on April 1, 2020.

Parks are not an unnecessary luxury

Lorne Fitch

PROFESSIONAL BIOLOGIST

The Alberta government plan to divest, downgrade or deconsecrate 184 of the province’s parks and recreation areas is bold, imperious and ill-considered. This scheme targets “small, underutilized” parks and their facilities for the ostensible rationale this decision will save money. It is an ironic twist, given the desire to increase tourism (and tourism dollars) to bolster an otherwise failing economy. If tourism is a new provincial pot of gold what sense does it make to divest ourselves of the “pots,” the provincial parks and recreation areas that add to the destinations of interest? Wouldn’t a more prudent strategy be to extoll the diversity of choices available for recreational users?

We have been here before with this perverse ideological bent that recreation, based on parks facilities, is an unnecessary luxury to be dumped in economic downturns. During the infamous Klein cuts many parks facilities were privatized. The net impact of that short-sighted decision was the erosion of services, widespread user dissatisfaction, declines in use, failure to maintain parks infrastructure and, a huge public rebuilding cost to bring facilities back to acceptable standards. How that decision saved us money remains unanswered. One might think even a casual review of history might provide pause to the current thinking.

Parks on the list of the damned touch people in every part of Alberta. They form an interconnected network to experience all that is Alberta, and are envied by many other jurisdictions. Yes, some of these parks and recreation areas are small and uncrowded – those are two of their virtues, not a reason to denigrate them. They are viable alternatives to those popular (and overused) parks that fill up immediately when the reservation line is opened.

Others are extremely popular, contradicting the stated assertion all are underutilized. The metric for decision making is either flawed, suspect, or both.

One of the most important virtues of this matrix of small parks facilities is the standards that apply to all. You know the road to them will be passable, the sites clean, the toilets maintained, the garbage picked up and water will be available. The cost of camping will be affordable regardless of your family’s financial realities. There may be interpretive materials, hiking trails, firewood and picnic tables. Yes, it’s basic, but of a known quality. There is also a consistent set of rules for users – quiet times, restrictions on pets, where fires can occur – all designed to enhance recreational experience and safety as well as protect the site facilities, wildlife and vegetation. Often, patrols by parks staff with enforcement capability occurs.

Changes to park status, divestment, privatization or abandonment will have some consequences, all of which are predictable. Clearly the standards will change, rules will be watered down, or disappear and these will cause many to reconsider whether these places are safe destinations, especially for family use. Those sites that are turned over to “partnership” agreements will be subject to different business models and become unaffordable to the average Albertan as hotels, cabins, and other facilities are opened for business.

A very real concern is that many sites will revert to party spots, subject to bad behaviour, indiscriminate shooting, random camping, no toilet facilities, unregulated off highway vehicle use, vandalism and rampant disregard for any rules. This will lead to increased conflict with wildlife and among user groups. That will require more management presence after the fact to clean up the mess. The cost of clean-up will undoubtedly fall on the Alberta taxpayer. In fact, several of the parks facilities on the list were examples of this, until local authorities asked for parks status to be applied to deal with the issues.

The cost savings of this scheme are illusionary at best, especially arrayed against the values Albertans get from parks. Parks not only satisfy our recreational needs, but also nature appreciation, improved physical and mental health, a better understanding of the diversity of Alberta and, for local businesses, sales of gas, groceries and beer. It seems evident that the proposed clearance sale on provincial parks and recreation areas indicates the architects of this purport to know the cost of everything, but the value of nothing.

It’s hard to conceive of a more tone-deaf scheme by the Alberta government, but I remain open to further surprises.

Lorne Fitch is a professional biologist, a retired Fish and Wildlife biologist and a user of provincial parks.

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8 Responses to “The (not so) Great Alberta Parks Clearance Sale”

  1. Dennis Bremner says:

    Strange? I would have thought this is right up the Alley of the “Close the lands off to human activity to Humans” and protect the greenery. Parks by Parks Canada standard are really not their for Human enjoyment its get them in, bill them, and get them out.
    We do away with the most affordable parts of parks yearly because the Park People don’t like Humans being there. All they really need them for is to herd them into smaller parts of the park and then pay for all the signs stating what you can’t do, which is about 70% of the regular human activity while trying to enjoy the park. The sole purpose of parks in general is to tell humans by way of NO ROADS, no accommodations for the disabled that the only people that should enjoy a park are the ones that are content with the first mile of access. Where their surroundings are parking lots crammed, small crammed areas for trailers, smaller areas for a tent, and fires…..geezus go ahead and set one not in the steel can provided by the parks people and see what happens. The remainder of the “Park” is exclusive territory for the wardens, and the treehuggers of Canada.
    All Governments believe humans are irresponsible and claim thousands upon thousands of acres of parks, but with distinct purpose make access 100% impossible by the disabled, and severely restrict everyone else.
    So again, I don’t see the problem here other then perhaps you feel your job is threatened? If the NDP had proposed more closings of human access it would have been heralded as a Greening of the Planet and they would have passed out more Ontario Installed Lightbulbs to celebrate?

  2. Fescue says:

    We are fortunate to have people like Mr. Fitch dedicated to building a society in which human beings act consciously to be ‘good ancestors’.

    Unfortunately the recreational opportunities for people and the remaining areas where non-human species can exist are being diminished by this government, including our own Park Lake. Mr. Fitch is absolutely correct that an effort by this government to save $5 million (while absolutely hemorrhaging money on pipelines and propaganda) will cost us dearly in the future when we try to restore the land and the amenities in these areas. Once again, penny wise and pound foolish.

  3. biff says:

    another excellent, intelligent letter from l.f. thank you, fes for your usual thoughtful contribution.
    d.b – so off the mark. really. seems your cynicism obliterates your intelligence now and again, and fully so here. it is my feeling you are far out to sea, even though there will others that agree with you. i am left to wonder, how it is that you need to go black and white on this? as fes noted, far more wisely, “We are fortunate to have people like Mr. Fitch dedicated to building a society in which human beings act consciously to be ‘good ancestors’. Unfortunately the recreational opportunities for people and the remaining areas where non-human species can exist are being diminished by this government….”

    perhaps a question worth pondering is: have humans not yet taken enough of the planet, let alone plundered and devastated the lot of it for all other life forms?

  4. Dennis Bremner says:

    I speak from the position of reality, others do not. The COVID deniers, the “we can do everything promoters”, the “we will cut back government incomes” by saving the planet, to the point of bankruptcy and everyone wants everything to remain open and nothing to change?

    When your income drops 70% you have to make cutbacks. I cannot think of one thing that the treehugging population of Canada want cut back more than oil. But continue will all services, and nothing that directly or indirectly affects ME!

    So returning parks back to nature would have been packaged by the NDP as greening the planet and reducing CO2. But, no matter what, they would be doing the same thing. As for Mr Finch, do you know what will disadvantage Albertans more than a few lost parks….. an inability by the Government to both service and pay its debts. Not sure if anyone has told you but about 70% of Income is under attack by the rest of Canada. Rail stoppages, COVID and the bludgeoning by the treehugging society may very well cause a collapse. and you are more worried about a few parks? REALLY! REALLY? I suppose you think the 100,000 plus unemployed Oil workers, and now the near 90% unemployed Albertan’s are really REALLY really concerned about the parks at the moment? Get into present reality Mr Fitch or do you think COVID is just the flu too?
    Somehow I don’t think you get it, Alberta is in a financial crisis like it has never experienced before although I am sure you will try to draw a parallel to the 70s. The 70s were a piece of cake compared to this.

    What amazes me is somehow out of all the things Gov is cutting back on, you pick parks as more important then teachers, doctors, nurses, oil workers and oil support services etc etc? I am a little amazed to be honest. Mind you I am not surprised who, here, is supporting your letter.

    The big clue here is you cut back expenses that offer you no return, and go all in on things that will offer you a bigger return. Now we could argue whether oil is the correct approach if you wish but you cannot defend no ROI (Return on Investment) during a collapse and trust me, we are in one. Why?

    When 58% of all Albertans are $200 away from Bankruptcy/not being able to pay their bills and COVID strikes, after Rail shutdowns, and and Oil attack of a magnitude we have never seen before, you pick parks as the worthy topic, over Doctors/Nurses? I gotta laugh! Can’t wait for you to reread this letter in 6 weeks from now to realize where it fits in todays society and reality, it will only be then you may start to get it.

    We will be a “have not” province when this is done and over with unless you roll the dice. I think the Keystone XL is the closest hope we have of generating some jobs and more importantly some steady state/reliable revenue for Alberta for the next 30 years. If it fails, I can assure you there will be no “equalization payments” coming to Alberta from Ottawa, with Ontario and Quebec being the contributors, ….. and you are miffed about what?

  5. phlushie says:

    Dennis, simple fact, all of Alberta is for sale. The Education system the Health system and all other systems and lands. You have been taken by the “CONS”servatives.

  6. Dennis Bremner says:

    Actually phlushie, if anyone has been taken, its Albertans that think we can continue as per normal when revenues are a third of what they were. All Albertans have to do is, the math, it no longer works.

  7. KCool says:

    Money quote from the author, Lorne Fitch (my neighbour): ‘It seems evident that the proposed clearance sale on provincial parks and recreation areas indicates the architects of this purport to know the cost of everything, but the value of nothing.’

    The same could be said for this government’s approach thus far to finding cost savings in rural health care and education. Everything seems to be a line item in an excel spreadsheet – just hit delete on several of the pricier numbers, and the bottom line expense number gets smaller. Simple!

    I grew up on a farm. If you don’t invest in seed and fertilizer, it doesn’t matter how much fuel you have in your fancy tractor, you can plow your way around the field, but the only crops you’ll end up harvesting are weeds. You can have a whole lot of really fine cattle, but if you don’t take care of the land and water resources that feed and sustain them, your cattle will all get sick and die, your land will be degraded and erode, and your water will become polluted and unreliable in supply. If you think your local veterinarians and their staff are too pricey and you decide not to pay your vet bills, then they’ll close up their clinics and move away from your community. Consequently, when your livestock or horse or dog gets sick, you’ll have to drive them to the city and wait in line paying higher vet fees, shoot the animals yourself, or simply let them die.

    Get the picture, Alberta? Make your government think very carefully about what they’re doing, because right now, they’re not fully considering the consequences of their shortsighted decisions.

    Some assets have more value than others, and some expenses are more vital than others to the overall success of the system. Call your MLA’s and shake some sense into them before it’s too late!

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