Tenting growth straining emergency providers for rural municipalities

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More people are hiking, camping, and driving off-road on public lands in Alberta, but increasing demand is straining emergency services in rural counties and metropolitan areas. (Sarah Rieger/CBC – photo credit)

Rural communities want the province to reimburse them for the cost of sending their crews to rescue operations and medical emergencies on Alberta public lands.

More and more Albertans are camping, hiking and driving off-road in the province’s countryside. If they get into trouble, responders from counties and communities, who are usually staffed by volunteers, are dispatched to the scene.

In the end, the municipality pays the entire cost. This includes purchasing equipment for specialized rescue workers and providing appropriate training.

The 69 municipal districts and counties that are members of the Rural Municipalities of Alberta want to change that.

On Wednesday, a majority of delegates at the RMA fall meeting in Edmonton passed a Bighorn Borough resolution calling on the province to develop a repayment compensation framework.

Deputy Bighorn Reeve Rick Tuza said sending first responders upstate is taking services away from residents who live in the area.

“While away from home, the volunteers and life-saving equipment are not available to our communities,” he said.

The MD of Bighorn is east of Banff National Park. The northern portion of the Calgary Forest Area is within its boundaries.

MD has a population of 1,600, but it’s estimated that more than 10,000 people move onto its public lands on the weekends.

Over the past five years, MD’s emergency response teams have responded to 140 incidents on Crown Land, including 14 incidents at Ghost Reservoir Recreation Area, 17 in the Kananaskis Improvement District, and 15 at Bow Valley Wildlands Park.

Paul McLauchlin, the president of the RMA and Reeve of Ponoka County, said emergency services are another cost to rural communities.

“We will take responsibility, but someone has to pay for it.”

Income from the camping pass

Delegates passed a Clearwater County resolution asking the province to share revenue it receives from the sale of public land camping passes required in the eastern slopes and foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

The story goes on

The Alberta government has used the money to pay for safe toilets, dumpsters, signage and other improvements at random campgrounds and trailheads along Highway 11 from Nordegg West to the Banff National Park border.

The resolution calls for the province to allocate some of that money to communities that have that land within borders so they can pay for garbage collection, toilets, and city peace officials and firefighters.

Forestry, Parks and Tourism Minister Todd Loewen told delegates he wants to double tourism in rural communities.

Bighorn MD Reeve Lisa Rogvold asked if he plans to double funding for municipalities to handle the influx of visitors. Your community is near Banff and Kananaskis Country.

Loewen said his comment applies to the entire province, not just specific areas. He said municipalities would need to be able to generate revenue to handle the additional burdens, but didn’t specify how.