EDMONTON — The Alberta Opposition is calling on the government to hold virtual public hearings on a plan to remove dozens of parks and recreation sites from the provincial system.
NDP environment critic Marlin Schmidt says the United Conservative government should hold off on making any changes until those hearings are complete.
“These parks are a treasure to Albertans,” he said at an online news conference.
“They form an important part of our natural heritage and they exist for the public good. But, most importantly, they belong to all Albertans and should exist for everyone to enjoy.”
Environment Minister Jason Nixon said in an email Thursday that the NDP is trying to score cheap political points.
“Alberta parks are not for sale,” he said. “All Crown land associated with these areas will remain protected and accessible to Albertans.”
Nixon has previously said the 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.
That’s about 16,000 hectares — small compared with the province’s total park system, but one-third the number of sites the province manages. Budget documents suggest the move would save about $5 million.
The plan has raised major concerns, with one online petition getting more than 52,000 signatures.
Schmidt was joined at his online news conference by Gabriella Peter and Wendy Urquhart, two Albertans who are concerned about the government’s plans for the parks system.
“I love Alberta parks,” Peter said. “Something I really love about our parks is that there is something there for everyone.”
She said she worries about how the plan will affect both recreation and conservation.
“I am very concerned about the lack of public consultation on this issue, because this is something that affects so many Albertans as well as our natural landscapes and wildlife.”
Peter said the closure or removal of parks will not only affect the parks on the list, but it will make the remaining parks in the province busier.
Urquhart, who’s from Lethbridge, said it’s already tough to get a camping reservation at provincial parks this summer with Albertans staying closer to home due to COVID-19 and restrictions related to the pandemic limiting campgrounds at half capacity.
“Add to that 20 closures of parks, either fully or partially, and then another 164 which will be sold off to third parties — this just simply doesn’t make sense right now for Albertans,” she said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 4, 2020
Colette Derworiz, The Canadian Press