Alberta’s Tenting Cross triggers dialog on how enforcement works within the Sandhills

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During the recent Woodlands County Economic Development Committee (WCEDC) meeting, members discussed a new guide published by the Alberta government called Alberta’s Guide to Outdoor Recreation on Provincial Crown Land. The 64-page booklet deals with topics such as the Public Lands Camping Pass, which was introduced on June 1st, and the use of off-road vehicles.

The Camping Pass area includes public land in the Eastern Slopes of the Rocky Mountains from Grande Prairie to Waterton Lakes National Park, west of Highway 43 and Highway 22. Passes are for campers 18 years and over and all ages who require one. It costs $ 20 for three days or $ 30 / year. The money the government raises through the fee will be poured back into the area to enhance the recreational experience, the guide said. Page seven lists the ways the funds can be used, including improving infrastructure, improving education, supporting nature conservation and providing better waste management.

Enforcing the Camping Pass is not easy for Woodlands County. “We have a full-time gamekeeper here, and he gets help during the hunting season. It covers Whitecourt, Swan Hills and Fox Creek, ”commented Councilor Bruce Prestidge. It would be impossible to expect the guard to take over the potential reception of unapproved campers.

“A few years ago, the Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD) asked us if we wanted to take over the area in the Sandhills where the ATVs are and we spontaneously said no. Because then it’s our problem, ”said Councilor Dale Kluin. “You would need one (a guard) in the cemetery and one on the ferry because they (campers) go there. However, the problem we found is that there are so many people out there that they went north. There is a road that takes you along the power line to Slave Lake, and now there are small groups of people wherever they can find a little higher and they camp out far back. ”

Committee member Art Bauer agreed, saying they see similar problems in the Groat Creek area. “There are people who just drive by and camp there for better or worse. Years ago we had problems where people were there for more than two weeks. We have these problem areas and they were a little harder to manage during Covid. This document that is coming out is, in my opinion, one way to address some of that. ”

Although he said some have opposed the changes, Bauer believes a middle ground is needed. “You (the government) actually worked a lot on this document. As a public document now, instead of having nothing but the regulations, that document is likely stepping forward, but I can see the same problem. I don’t know how they’re going to get that through. ”

With minimal enforcement, Councilor Prestidge felt that not much was going to change. “All it will do is have those who want to be legal buy it, and those who don’t want it will just carry on as they are.” He recalled attending an Alberta Parks and Recreation conference where he asked two Alberta Parks representatives how they were going to enforce this. “It was just a blank look. They had no idea. One of the Brazeau County councilors asked her, what will you be doing on the long May weekend when a quarter of a million people from Calgary and Edmonton come to the east slope? How are you going to get it done? And they definitely can’t. ”Councilor Kluin agreed with his colleague. “The Sandhills are packed with quads every weekend or whatever, and there’s no one up there to raise money or tell them what to do.” ESRD attended a council meeting to explain things.

The Economic Development Committee decided to make physical copies of the guide available in both district offices and to include the link to the guide on the district’s website. Your decisions will also be on the agenda of the next Woodlands County Council meeting. If the Council decides to look further, it would be invited to do so. “If more camping facilities are needed, you will have a referenced document to plan for that. (Council) can look at the demand and hear what ESRD has to say, ”concluded Bauer.

To view the document at the center of the conversation, visit https://open.alberta.ca/publications and type Alberta’s Guide to Outdoor Recreation on Provincial Crown Land in the search bar under Search Publications.