February 15th, 2017 ~ Vol. 87 No. 7
“Weekend warriors” unite over OHV ban in Castle Parks wilderness area
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
Anna Kroupina Photo
Over 600 people attended a residents meeting concerning the eventual OHV phase-out in the proposed Castle Provincial Park and Wildlands Park at the MDM Community Centre in Bellevue on Feb. 7.
Pass Herald Reporter
When Premier Rachel Notley referred to Albertans as “weekend warriors” at the unveiling of the Castle Provincial Park and Castle Wildlands Park on Jan. 20, she might have underestimated just how much “warrior” Southern Albertans have in them.

Over 600 of these “weekend warriors” attended a town hall meeting at the MDM Community Centre in Bellevue on Feb. 7 to discuss and stand in solidarity against the NDP government’s draft management plan of the Castle parks.

According to Gary Clark, president of the Crowsnest Quad Squad, a live stream video reached over 39,000 people on Facebook by the end of the meeting.

A panel of seven members representing various user groups affected by the parks delivered opening and closing remarks. The panel consisted of: Chris Brooks, executive director of the Alberta Snowmobile Association (ASA); Russell Bruder, scientist and Pincher Creek resident; Gary Clark, president of the Crowsnest Quad Squad; Brian Dingreville, 2nd vice president of Alberta Fish and Game; John MacGarva, president of the Crowsnest Forest Stewardship Society; Pat Stier, MLA for Wildrose Livingstone - Macleod; and Blair Painter, mayor of the Municipality of Crowsnest Pass. The gathering was mediated by Val Danielson.

The purpose of the gathering was for affected user groups and the public to voice their concerns regarding the provincial government’s plan for Castle Parks.

Gary Clark began by saying, “This is not a protest. This is not an antigovernment meeting. This is a town hall meeting for the public to voice their thoughts and concerns to send a clear, strong message to the government.”
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Stier was on hand to listen to commentary that can then be brought to legislature.

“My purpose tonight is to hear from the general public and to work with the groups here tonight and help them develop a strategy to cause the change that we need to see so that all people can enjoy the park,” said Stier.

Most panel members called for a balance between responsible OHV use and environmental conservation, but the areas of contention went beyond simply an OHV ban. The panel had mayor criticisms regarding the lack of consultation on the part of the government, highlighting limited comment periods and biased questions in the government’s online survey on the draft management plan. The panel called for a comprehensive, multi-faceted public consultation plan, similar to the one used in the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan (SSRP), a framework detailing the methods of conservation and development in Southern Alberta, of which the Castle area is part of.

During the public commentary period, members of the public expressed dismay in not being able to access some of Castle’s most beautiful areas without the use of OHVs and affirmed that the great majority of OHV users are very respectful of the environment.

People of all ages attended the meeting, including 17-year-old Tyler, an avid OHV user who became emotional as he said, “We’re the generation that’s going to be affected the most, and we haven’t even been consulted.”
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As a result of the meeting, Danielson summarized the course of action that residents can take, outlining a strong invitation to show up in the Lethbridge Rally on Saturday, Feb. 11, sending hardcopy letters to the offices of the Premier and Shannon Phillips, Environment and Parks Minister, submitting letters to the editor to local media outlets, and the possibility of organizing a 500 machine rally.

“There’s strength in numbers, but there’s strength in your associations as well, so join your Quad Squad, join your Snow Riders. Get involved,” added Brooks.

“By standing together and sending a strong message to the government, we can make a change. Remember, this is just a draft management plan,” said Clark.

Although a 60-day comment period is currently ongoing, the government does not seem to be placing much weight on the “draft” portion of the draft management plan. As stated by the CBC in a Feb. 10 article, Notley is standing firm on the OHV ban in Castle Parks. CBC reports her saying, “When you have passionate belief, you're not always going to have consensus. But the absence of consensus can lead to action as well because not doing anything means we're making a decision, which may well result in it being too far along to actually choose to save the area."
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Wade Aebli, vice president and land use chair of the Hillcrest Fish and Game Association who was a volunteer at the meeting, says that this comment from the government doesn’t surprise him.

“I’ve always said this will be a long, drawn-out fight and it will take a change in government to get the changes we want to see,” he says.

The final boundaries for the Castle Provincial Park and Wildlands Park were announced on Jan. 20. A 60-day public input period is ongoing, terminating on March 20, 2017.
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February 15th, 2017 ~ Vol. 87 No. 7
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