November 15th, 2017 ~ Vol. 87 No. 46
Castle Region Tourism Strategy gathers town input
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
Vyk Harnett photo
Overlooking the Castle region from the peak of the Adanac road.
Pass Herald Reporter
Access, usage, infrastructure and over-tourism were some of the most cited concerns at the Castle Region Tourism Strategy open house on November 9 at Elk’s Hall.

Representatives from Alberta Tourism and Alberta Environment and Parks were present to answer questions from the public and receive feedback on the types of tourism strategy locals would like to see implemented in the Castle Provincial Park.

“This is an opportunity to work with the community to understand what it is they want to see go into a tourism strategy for the greater Castle region. We’re gathering input, we’re gathering ideas, we’re exploring opportunities, and we’re looking at how people envision the strategy to unfold,” says Chris Heseltine, Assistant Deputy Minister of Tourism with Alberta Culture and Tourism.

Several stations were set up with questions where guests were able to write down their input regarding various topics, like what experiences they feel visitors can enjoy in the area, tourism amenities that would improve and detract from one’s quality of life and recommendations as to how economic development can co-exist with ecological and cultural conservation.
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A variety of activities were listed with regard to how to recreate in the area, from those permitted to those not currently allowed under the Draft Castle Management Plan. Some of the input cited the desire for hiking maps and clear directions to trailheads, preserving the natural landscape and opportunities for cross country and downhill skiing. Others noted opportunities for hunting in the backcountry with both foot and motorized access, random camping, and dirt biking on single track trails.

In terms of positive amenities, guests listed things like cell phone coverage, garbage facilities for campers, promoting local clubs, and considering the location of the twinned Highway 3 through Crowsnest Pass. Negative amenities included major infrastructure projects like hotels and restaurants and the plans for a coal load out as part of the Grassy Mountain Coal Project.

Stephanie Brouwer, Crowsnest Pass resident and employee at the Crowsnest Lake Bible Camp, is an avid backpacker and hiker in the Castle region. She attended the open house to learn about frontcountry and backcountry infrastructure and offer her input as to how she would like to see it developed.

Her input was to allow development on the front end, but to leave the back end wild.

“I think there needs to be a very clear separation between the areas that are backcountry and the areas that are frontcountry, the backcountry being more or less a place that is only foot access, not to build restaurants or put bathrooms, just to leave it like it is. In the front country, they can maybe add a few restaurants, have bathrooms and garages, and maybe a couple more camping options,” she says.

Summing up what he heard during the open house, Heseltine says that he hears that locals don’t want to be a Banff or a Canmore and that they value the natural heritage and culture of the Castle region.

“The sense that we seem to be getting is that this is an area that wants to be known for its outdoor recreational activities, its culture, its history, its natural assets. I think it’s very much going to continue to be an outdoor playground,” says Heseltine. “People are looking at tourism as an opportunity for the growth, the sustainability for jobs, the natural attraction and the outdoor experiences. They don’t want mass development.”
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Although the government has not conducted any feasibility studies regarding how much tourist capacity the Castle region can accommodate, Heseltine acknowledges the concern of overpopulation and says that the tourist strategy will focus more on spreading the visitation over the off peak times.

“Overpopulation, to a certain degree, comes from a massive investment in infrastructure. Parks Canada has played a significant role in getting that infrastructure to allow the town of Banff to grow in certain spots and you see that in Canmore to a certain degree as well,” he says. “Overvisitation is a challenge, but the bigger challenge and the opportunity here is to spread that over the year. What we want to talk about is how we can help Albertans and communities capitalize on tourism, but also capitalize on spreading the visitation season.”

At this point, there is no major infrastructure development planned for the Castle Park.

There are four key access points into park: Sartoris Road from Blairmore, Adanac Road east of Crowsnest Pass, the Shell loop road and Highway 774 from Pincher Creek, the latter being the only paved access road. There are currently no plans to pave any access roads, but Alberta Environment and Parks representatives at the open house indicated that the government will be looking at the uses and how they change over time.

Staff from Alberta Environment and Parks answered many questions about OHV and snowmobile use in the parks. According to the OHV use is to be phased out over a three to five year period. Environment and Parks is currently reviewing winter OHV and snowmobiling use, looking at ecological considerations and stream crossings.

The Castle region is defined as the Municipality of Crowsnest Pass and the Municipal District of Pincher Creek, including the Piikani Nation.

The Castle Region Tourism Strategy is anticipated to be complete by spring 2018 and will be used as a starting point for implementing tourism in the region. Interested respondents can also fill out a survey online at the Alberta Culture and Tourism website until November 19, 2017.
November 15th, 2017 ~ Vol. 87 No. 46
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