Take a look at an article written recently by Jim Dennis, Permit Director for Kananaskis Country Parks Division for the Calgary Area Outdoor Council titled Size Does Matter! Group Use in Backcountry Areas of Parks in Kananaskis Country. It can be found at the COAC web site or downloaded as part of their Outdoor Update December 2008.
Most of the article explains how Kananaskis Country uses a permit system to manage large commercial groups hiking/skiing in the backcountry. Fair enough. Most people would agree that encountering large groups of people on the trails takes away from the experience. However, at the recent TUG meeting Jim dropped a bombshell by announcing that henceforth this would apply to non-commercial outdoor clubs as well. Such was the immediate outcry the government immediately backed off.
So now there is talk of applying this system only to outdoor clubs who have group sizes exceeding 15 and that the permit system would be purely voluntary, whereby organized, non-commercial groups that inquire about doing trips into the backcountry may be issued a “no fee” Letter of Authority.
Pay attention to the wording of the last two paragraphs — reproduced in italic below. I have highlighted a number of pertinent words or phrases that raise questions or are cause for alarm to any club who might think of participating in this not terribly well thought out scheme.
“Non-commercial groups who use backcountry areas of Kananaskis Country Parks to recreate are not required to obtain a permit other than for camping in a designated backcountry campground or for a special event. As part of an education process, organized non-commercial groups that inquire about doing trips into the backcountry may be issued a “no fee” Letter of Authority. Conditions are placed on the Letter of Authority to advise and educate the group about group size guidelines, safety, ways that the group can reduce their impacts on the environment, and ways to reduce conflicts with other users. Notifying the Parks Division about the activities of groups of this type is voluntary and therefore gathering data on backcountry use can be very challenging for the Parks Division. Information that is gathered provides the Division with important data for making management decisions about use of the park and what facilities may be necessary to accommodate this use.”
“The Parks Division of Kananaskis Country encourages organized non-commercial groups which are greater than fifteen persons to let us know of your planned outings in to backcountry areas. Larger groups are encouraged to break up in to smaller groups or choose a variety of different trails when going in to backcountry areas. Issuing a Letter of Authority allows our staff to be informed of a large group’s presence and provides an opportunity to educate and inform users on issues including trail closures, safety hazards or other features about the areas that the group plans to use. The information you provide to us on the number of people in your group helps us in making more informed management decisions about these important backcountry areas.
I have a number of questions:
- Why does K-Country need to issue a Letter of Authority if not to mandate something?
- What do they mean by “Conditions are placed on the Letter of Authority to advise and educate…”
- Like the commercial groups, you will likely be told which trails you can hike on, which are mostly Designated trails. If you notify K Country of a hike on a non-designated trail will you be told you can’t go? Quite possibly.
Now there are not that many clubs who hike in groups of over 15, so you may think this a non-issue. But there are a few, such as seniors clubs, who must hire a 30-seater bus to get everyone to a trailhead. As one senior said, they are either not going to go out, or will completely ignore the regulations at the risk of paying a hefty fine.
Our advice at present is to do nothing, because if even one club starts participating in the process it could very well change from voluntary to mandatory. And then what? There is also a load of paper work involved and the information you give will possibly be used against you.
While we are certainly willing to support an education process to encourage organized groups to reduce group size on all K-Country trails in some way, we question the rather high-handed way that K-Country is tackling this issue. K Country needs to have more discussion with clubs before implementing this scheme.
Your thoughts on this issue?