ATHABASCA, BARRHEAD, WESTLOCK - A list of 164 provincial parks and recreation areas that are slated to be removed from Alberta’s parks system can no longer be found on the Government of Alberta website, leading some to believe it was intentionally removed to avoid further public scrutiny.
On Feb. 29, the Alberta government published the list on its website, but in the last month it has been removed and at least one member of the Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA) believes the government has now made it more difficult for Albertans to know if certain areas will still be part of the provincial parks system when they plan their next visit.
“It was something we noticed maybe over a month ago, and so it did take us a little bit of time to spread the news about this. It could be some deliberate misguiding so that folks have a harder time engaging with this decision, they have a harder time finding out information about it. And so there may be less of an opportunity for them to push back on these parks' closures. Now, obviously, that's just speculation,” said Grace Wark, a conservation specialist with AWA.
Many are also saying the decision was made without proper consultations with stakeholders, that being Albertans.
"What's important is that the government isn’t being as transparent as possible in this process. They haven't offered any public consultation and to do their due diligence on a public resource, like our provincial parks and recreation areas then they need to get that list back on their website, as well as start providing more information backing up this decision,” Wark said.
Regionally the list includes partial closure or privatization of Chrystina Lake, Trapper Lea’s Cabin, Edith Lake, Freeman River, Fawcett Lake, Lawrence Lake, Chain Lakes, and the Chisholm and Newbrook public recreation areas.
When the UCP was campaigning during the last election, one of their biggest targets was what they claimed was a lack of public consultation regarding Bighorn Country which had documents online for people to access and forums had been arranged.
"In some ways, it wasn't the most straightforward consultation; it was a document that was uploaded online and it was asking about specific areas in the Bighorn. And so, it wasn't entirely accessible to all areas of the public. But I would like to comment very generally it was a bit more challenging to do that at the time. However, they were also accepting things like letters and folks calling in,” said Wark.
The AWA and other partners, like the Save Chain Lakes North group in Athabasca, are encouraging people to write to the minister and their MLA and copy it to the NDP environment shadow critic Marlin Schmidt with their stories and memories surrounding the use of the areas.
“What we've heard from our members, from our friends, from the public is that many of these lakes are actually very important to them. They've been telling us stories about, ‘We spent my kids first birthday here,’ ‘We go here every long weekend.’ And so, it's telling a very different story than the one that we're hearing out of this government proposal where they're saying, ‘Oh, we're shutting down these lakes because there's no use,’” she said.
The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) has also published a list of what it calls 13 truths and one lie (https://cpawsnab.org/alberta-parks-fact-check/) saying the claimed savings from the UCP government amounts only 0.0089 per cent of the total budget.