Here is a brief summary of discussions at the first two Ghost Watershed Forums. The organization of topics and interpretation of the main points discussed is mine. I am sure the facilitator will provide a full summery when the forums have concluded.
Protection of watershed
A recent study commissioned by the Ghost Watershed Alliance — “An Assessment of the Cumulative of Land Use within the Ghost River Watershed” indicates that the current wide variety of competing land usage has negatively impacted the watershed and that it will only get worse in the future. There is a delicate balance to be struck so that wildlife habitat can be maintained and the watershed is able to recharge and at the same time our human use is allowed. A key question is: How do we ensure the ecological good and services provided by the Ghost are sustained for all users including motorized and non-motorized users? While most people agreed that both motorized and non-motorized recreation be supported, there was some discussion that if the water quality deteriorated further, motorized recreation may be banned as is happening elsewhere in North America..
Designate recreation as primary land use of area.
In both meetings there were suggestions that because the area is so close to Calgary, that it should receive special “recreational” designation through some form of legislation, or by modifying current legislation to allow for exceptions in land with high recreational potential. For instance, current logging practices are seen as being in conflict with recreational use. One suggestion was that Eastern Slopes be declared by the province as a Prime Protection Zone.
The need for change
Along with the damage to the watershed detailed in the consultant’s report (above), there were many stories of bad experiences encountered in the Ghost watershed due to conflicts between various OHV users, and complaints from non-motorized users about noise from quads and motorbikes. Many examples were mentioned of OHV users riding or driving on non-designated trails, and of SRD doing nothing to police the situation.
It was felt that motorized users need a place to enjoy their sport on well designed trails so that they don’t have to worry about encountering non-motorized users and therefore minimize conflict potential. At the same time, non-motorized users feel they are unable to use the Ghost area, especially on weekends, as they are driven away by the noise and disturbance of vehicles. This is not in keeping with the concept of multiple use where everyone has a right to enjoy the area.
Reducing conflict between user groups
Construct a well-designed motorized and non-motorized trail systems, that are well signed and marked, and provide different levels of challenge for each user group. It was suggested that there should be a total redesign of the trail system for motorized use as current trails do not meet the needs of users as they are just a collection of existing linear features that are not optimal for motorized use. As well, equestrian, hiking and mountain biking trails should be designated and reconstructed where necessary.
Trans Alta road needs maintenance as some recreationists find access into the area difficult due to the poor condition of the road.
Enforcement of regulations
The most widely-discussed topic was the management of the area by the Alberta government. It was suggested that enforcement of the rules would solve problems of inappropriate trail use and noise bylaws etc. Current enforcement by SRD is weak. Despite having a network of official trails, OHV users appear to go where they want unimpeded. How can we make sure that the government, as our land manager, does a better job of managing the Ghost watershed? One suggestion was integrating TPR with SRD Forestry, Fish & Wildlife. There was a lot of discussion at one meeting about the traditional role of the Ranger and the “need to bring back Rangers to the landscape; manned Ranger stations.”
Controls on backcountry usage
Some felt there should be controls on backcountry usage: limit placed on numbers of users and ATVs; identify usage areas and enforce them; close areas that have been compromised; users pay a fee for usage and seize OHV that haven’t paid; no alcohol; and the extreme view—declare the Ghost Watershed Area off limits to OHVs.
Education is needed to help build respect for the landscape and for the activities of other users. It was suggested that we need volunteers stewards/guardians. Try to find volunteer groups who already are “ambassadors” and align with them, inviting them into the Ghost area
It was acknowledged that the Ghost Watershed Alliance already has an active program of outreach to the schools, and a program for introducing hikers to the area.
Achieving Change – Advocacy and Planning
Inclusiveness. How do we get all of the user groups to engage in advocacy, planning and the implementation of plans? The Ghost Stewardship Monitoring Group (GSMG) was mentioned, but little is known of its current activities, membership or effectiveness.
Planning. After the adoption of the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan, there will probably another round of regional management planning. This would be a good opportunity for some meaningful input into the future of the watershed.
Advocacy. Now is the time to advocate for this area since change is now occurring more rapidly. The GWAS could consider getting the newly elected local MLA, Ron Casey, involved and maybe also the local candidate of the Wildrose opposition party,Tom Copithorne.
Who will do the work. It was acknowledged that the Ghost River Watershed Alliance is already a well established watershed planning and advocacy group, involved in awareness, outreach, advocacy, education, environmental promotion, etc. Another suggestion was to create a local volunteer organizations like “Friends of the Eastern Slopes” for the Ghost/Waiparus area. It was also established that leadership is needed to for trail planning and building, probably a different groups for each type of recreation. Note: Rocky Mountain Dirt Riders and the Alberta Equestrian Federation already provide such leadership.
If you want to provide pour two bits, there is one more forum on Friday, May 11, 2 to 6 pm at the Calgary Water Centre, 25th Avenue S.E. and Spiller Road, Bow River Room.