Monday, January 16, 2017

Waterton Springs Campground closure concerns MD council

Chris Davis - In December council for the MD of Pincher Creek received an email from Nature Conservancy Canada (NCC) notifying them that the Waterton Springs Campground will be closed at the end of October 2017, with reclamation efforts to begin in the spring of 2018. Council discussed the issue at their January 10, 2017 meeting.

NCC purchased the land in January 2007 with the objective of ensuring "that proposed developments for the property did not occur on the boundary of the national park and irreversibly impact the conservation values of the area." In the purchase agreement for the campground NCC was required to lease it out for a ten year period, which ended December 31, 2016. "NCC will now implement its long term goals of decommissioning the campground and restoring natural habitat on the doorstep of Waterton Lakes National Park." NCC said it will permit the campground to operate for one more year "presuming we can find an operator" in "acknowledgement of the 150th celebration of Canada's National Parks in 2017."

At the MD council's January 10 meeting. Councillor Garry Marchuck said the closure would have a huge negative economic impact on the MD and southern Alberta. Marchuk said the campground has 10,000 visitors a year, "Where will they camp?"

The 2015/16 Alberta Environment and Parks annual report says "The annual Survey of Albertans identified that 33.6 per cent of Albertans visited a provincial park or recreational area last year. This result was 5.2 per cent higher than the 2015 results and exceeded the target by 0.6 per cent. Results indicate that approximately one-third of Albertans visit Alberta Parks annually."

Marchuk said there is already a huge shortage of campsites, and demand is going to go up now due to the expansion of the Castle Wildland Provincial Park and the establishment of the Castle Provincial Park. He suggested closing the campground would exacerbate the random camping problems in his division, and increase trespassing incidents.  "You can't conserve everything."

Councillor Fred Schoening echoed councillor Marchuk's concerns, saying that Waterton Springs Campground was a dynamic and successful campground providing overflow capacity for the Park. Schoening sait the NCC should hear from the MD, asking them to reconsider the closure plan because of the campground's value and fact that it is already established. He said closing the campground would just encourage some entrepreneur to create another one somewhere else, increasing rather than decreasing the environmental impact.

Council unanimously agreed to send a letter of concern to Nature Conservancy Canada.

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