Last week after more than five years of planning, consultations and speculation the Government of Alberta announced a draft plan to create a number of signature parks and protected areas in the Bighorn.
The Bighorn is one of Alberta’s lesser known gems and has never been formally designated or resourced as a recreation area. Despite this, it already receives substantial, growing use by all kinds of recreationalists including hikers, campers, hunters, fishers, horseback riders and OHV users.
While still in good condition, the secret is well and truly out. Despite the efforts of volunteers (including our members) the Bighorn is starting to get a little frayed around the edges as it currently receives few government resources in the way of recreation infrastructure and enforcement to support this ever-increasing use. The proposal to invest $40 million dollars over five years in recreation management in the region will create a wonderful legacy and protect the environment and recreation experiences for years to come.
My organization, the Alberta Hiking Association (AHA), which has 20 member hiking clubs across the province including in Nordegg, supports the designation of the Bighorn as a complex of protected recreation areas and Public Land Use Zones (PLUZ) to protect and enhance all recreational uses, including hiking, in this amazing area. Our members report fantastic experiences in the Bighorn but also point to increasing degradation through lack of enforcement of trail rules, few parking areas or toilet facilities and limited signage, bridges or trail maintenance. Despite most users being responsible, garbage and damage is increasing.
Our members use the hiking trails of the Bighorn extensively from Coliseum Mountain near Nordegg to Lake of the Falls and the headwaters of the Ram River. The Bighorn is also highly valued for many other recreation uses including hunting, fishing, outfitting, camping, horse and OHV use.
The draft plan is consistent with the recommendations made by the Regional Advisory Council, which included substantial local input. Last week’s announcement was clear the existing trail management plan developed by locals through the Bighorn Backcountry Standing Committee, and its separation of motorized and non-motorized trails is appropriate. There are no changes in trail types or reduced access for any users identified in the draft plan, although some users have been fearmongering on this point.
The draft parks plan also encourages hunting and fishing, maintains options for rustic, random camping and provides increased designated camping opportunities for those who prefer that option. Free access is maintained for all. In a province where the population is projected to grow by 2 million people over the next 30 years, this designation and investment is necessary to maintain the kind of high quality experiences the Bighorn provides. Without proper park designation, the Bighorn will decline in its current state of virtual neglect and continue to be at risk from coal mining, or future industrial impacts. The proposed plan is a big improvement on the current PLUZ zoning and lack of dedicated resources.
Over 1.3 million Albertans walk and hike for pleasure and hikers represent the most significant recreational user group on public lands in Alberta. The draft plan announced by the government will enhance the recreation experience for all users just like southern Albertans have benefited from the popular and visionary protection of Kananaskis by the Lougheed Government 40 years ago.
The draft plan is now open for public consultation at https://talkaep.alberta.ca/bighorn-country. I encourage all Albertans who love nature and getting outside to review the plan and complete the government’s survey to so in 40 years our grandchildren can still enjoy the Bighorn.
-Murray Fierheller, Alberta Hiking Association Chair,
Leduc County, Alta.
In reference to lawyers
There comes a time when individuals, including seniors, require legal representation. Individuals should check the lawyer they are considering for professional and moral work practices.
Seniors who require the services of a lawyer should ask a family member or close friend to assist them when choosing a lawyer. Individuals should check the lawyer’s credibility with the Alberta Law Society, their track record and request references from the lawyer they are considering to ensure they are choosing the lawyer who best represents them.