By Nikki Jamieson
Municipal District of Taber council has expressed concerns to a local watershed council director about how the province would manage the Castle area.
During their regular Jan. 23 meeting, the Municipal District of Taber council met with Shannon Frank, the executive director of the Oldman Watershed Council, where they discussed the recent announcement of the expanded boundaries for Castle Wildland Provincial Park and the new Castle Provincial Park, and how it would effect “How that part of the world looks,” according to Counc. Tom Machacek.
“The big change is to phase out OHVs (off-highway vehicles), so any motorized use over five years, and they’re hoping the bulk of that phase out in years two and three,” said Frank. “As they bring online designated trains and enforcement and signage and all that in the Porcupine Hills and Livingstone area north of Highway 3, they will phase out motorized use south of Highway 3 in the Castle. So they’re trying to do that together in order to manage basically pushing people out, so it’s not just like everyone moves…from here to there, that they have a system in place to deal with that through the designated trails.”
Additionally, they are trying to discourage people from “random camping” and set up designated camping zones with facilities such as bathrooms and garbage disposal areas. They are also reviewing grazing and hunting to ensure best practices are followed, although currently, grazing is not being effected.
Bridges were also an item of interest, as the OWC had helped educate about the importance of bridge crossings in the area. Although Frank stressed that they did not advocate or pay for the bridges, but did show groups that people responded positively towards signs if the bridge was big enough.
“We helped educate them on why a bridge was important and how they can make better use of a bridge instead of a ford,” said Frank. “We’ve done some testing with signs; what we found is that if we had a full sized bridge, that a truck can fit on, next to a big ford where they drive though the creek, if you put a sign up saying ‘Please don’t use the ford, use the bridge’, 94 per cent of people will. We’re going to do more of it, to see if that number holds up. It’s our preliminary finding, but it’s looking favourable.”
However, she did say that for smaller bridges that could only fit quads, everyone would use the ford crossing. Frank stressed to council that the OWC was a neutral party and were not paying for bridges, but were just trying to get the information and science out.
“Moving all the quadding to north of Highway 3, are they not just moving the problem? I mean, I’ve quadded up there and used the trails and that, the snow mobile trails. I see nothing wrong with it,” said Ben Elfring, M.D. councillor. “You’re obviously going to get some bad apples that wreck it for everybody, and same with random camping.”
Elfring went on to say that the current spots for camping trailers were built in the 1960s, when trailers were almost half the size they are today.
“You cannot get in there. It’s easy for the government to say, ‘Yeah, we’re going to do this, this and this’, but they have never kept up in the tourism part,” said Elfring. “Now all of a sudden, every camper is random camping because they can’t fit into the campground. And let’s face it, they’ve got 15 stalls, and you go in the Castle anywhere, and there’s got to be 300 trailers. So where are they supposed to go?”
Frank said that she has heard some concerns over the provincial government just moving people around, along with poorly designed and maintained trails in the Livingstone area that aren’t made for quadding. However, she said that the province will be committing money to create better campgrounds and campsites in the area.
“It looks like there’s going to be a lot of work to catch up. As you said, they are a ways behind, they haven’t been investing out there,” said Frank. “So they’re playing catch-up.”
Manpower was also an issue out there, with councillors remarking that the province should have their own people there, and not contract it out. They’re also concerned about policing in the area, as nothing was being enforced there, suggesting that the province brings in conservation students from universities and colleges to come in and help police it. User fees for the site would be something they would be willing to pay if it helped manage the facilities there.
“They’re talking about user fees as well, and we’ve been advocating for user fees because we all got a very positive response from the community on that,” said Frank. “People are willing to pay that, as long as it goes back to managing the land, and not into general revenue.”