Calgary

New bill will allow Alberta government to charge fees for recreational Crown land use

A new bill would allow the Alberta government to charge people for recreationally using Crown land.

If it passes, it will cost $30 per person per year to camp on public land on Rockies' eastern slopes

A camp set up too close to Waiperous Creek during the summer of 2020, when Alberta saw increased interest in Crown land camping. The province is planning to introduce fees for those camping on public land. (Ghost Watershed Alliance Society)

A  new bill would allow the Alberta government to charge people for camping on Crown land, and opens the door for potential more fees for recreational uses in future. 

Bill 64, the Public Lands Amendment Act, passed its first reading in the legislature on Monday.

The bill would allow the government to introduce fees for recreational activities on public land, which the government says would be reinvested to improve visitor experiences and conserve and protect wilderness areas.

If it's passed, a per person $30 annual pass or $20 three-day pass would be required for those wanting to random camp on public land on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains, an activity that was previously free. If passed, the pass requirement would go into effect on June 1. 

"Alberta's Crown lands are the foundation of our province's rich, natural heritage and are used for recreation, conservation and economic development," Environment Minister Jason Nixon said in a release. "Bill 64 will ensure that Crown land recreation is sustainably funded and will help conserve our wild and beautiful landscapes for generations to come."

First Nations members and those accessing land for authorized work or volunteer duties will be exempt. 

Jess Sinclair, the premier's issues manager, wrote on Twitter that the bill would include a $30 per year fee for trail users. 

But the environment minister's press secretary Paul Hamnett in an emailed statement that, "it is not a trail fee, and does not apply to hikers or ATV users unless they are camping."

The province said an online survey that included the public and stakeholder groups found the majority of Albertans generally support the concept of user-based fees, if used to support sustainable recreation. 

Ryan Epp, creator of the Crown Land Camping Facebook group, which grew to nearly 80,000 members this year, said even though many in the group are opposed to fees, he supports the ideas as long as the funds go toward Crown land improvements. 

"Especially with COVID over the last year and this year is going to be a lot worse with the influx of people staying home and camping and using it. It can use a lot of work," Epp said.

"It's getting pretty beat up and people mistreating it and stuff like that. So there needs to be more enforcement out there and maybe some more services added."

Cost increase concerns

The Opposition is concerned the fees could lead to further costs down the line, like fees for activities like hiking. 

"Bill 64 does not limit the fees the UCP is suggesting they will charge Albertans," said Edmonton-Goldbar NDP MLA Marlin Schmidt.

"They have already increased other camping fees and recreation-related fees several times during the pandemic and nothing in Bill 64 suggests they would stop increasing fees further."

The government has explored a version of using fees for maintaining recreational areas before, through a partnership with Nordiq Alberta. 

When the UCP government cut funding trail maintenance in Kananaskis last year, the non-profit sports organization raised money through voluntary parking pass sales, giving that money to the province to ensure the trails continued to be groomed. 

The government estimates the camping pass will bring in $1.7 million its first year, and $2.7 million in following years. 

More information on the proposed new bill and camping pass can be found on the province's website

With files from Julie Debeljak and the Calgary Eyeopener

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