Alberta Environment & Parks minister Shannon Phillips held an informal meeting in Calgary yesterday with members of the Alberta Hiking Association, and invited outdoor leaders from all over southern Alberta. It was a very positive meeting with the minister taking question from anyone who asked, as well as talking individually with participants. The other thing that impressed me was that although the meeting went an hour over the allotted time, the minister was in no hurry to rush away.
One of the things I am sure she will take away from the meeting is that there are many outdoor groups willing to work in a collaborative manner with the government to plan, build and maintain hiking, skiing and biking trails in Alberta parks and public lands.
Alf Skrastins from the Greater Bragg Creek Trails Association pointed out that one of the major difficulties faced by his group was the lack of inclusive consultation with all of the stakeholders in the area. The involvement of several government department meant it took a long time before decisions were made on even the simplest request. Also it appeared that separate consultations were held with stakeholders such as oil & gas companies, grazing leaseholders and logging companies, and that many times these stakeholders dictated the final decision. It was suggested that all the stakeholders were bought together at the same time for such consultations. For those involved in trying to build trails in municipalities, the process was still difficult, with several levels of government and many different departments involved.
It was also suggested that there was a lack of detailed trail planning in some area, with trails added, designated or undesignated without an overall long-term plan or any consultation with local trail groups.
There was some discussion on reducing the impact of OHVs in some areas, and to control random camping and vandalism on public land. Minister Phillips pointed out that additional Conservation Officers had been hired this year and that they had recently been given the authority to issue tickets for infractions. A blitz was held on the May long weekend to set the tone for the season.
It is refreshing to have an Environment & Parks minister who is willing to listen to our reasonable concerns, and who undertook to work with her fellow ministers in portfolios such as Agriculture & Forestry, Culture & Tourism (includes recreation) and Transportation on behalf of the outdoor recreation community.