Calgary

Kananaskis pass garners $5.7M in initial weeks of program

Alberta’s provincial government has reaped more than $5.7 million from Kananaskis Country access passes in the inaugural weeks of the program.

Conservation pass introduced June 1 after record-setting visitation strained the region

Large mammals such as bighorn sheep, moose, deer and elk are commonly spotted in K-Country. A new access pass for the region was introduced in June. (Alberta Parks)

Alberta's provincial government has reaped more than $5.7 million from Kananaskis Country passes in the inaugural weeks of the program. 

Visitors to Kananaskis Country were required to purchase a pass starting on June 1 to access the 4,200 square kilometres of wilderness just west of Calgary. 

Earlier in the spring, the province said the fee had become necessary after a record setting 5.3 million visitors last year created environmental strain on the region. Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon vowed the money collected from pass sales would be used to better K-Country, as it's called. 

The regional director for the area says about $2 million of the revenue from those sales has already been reinvested into the provincial park. The program is expected to generate $15 million per year. 

"That has gone towards a whole variety of initiatives, but specifically to help pay for our visitors centres to reopen and to staff those visitors centres. It's also paying for our traffic control specialists," Michael Roycroft with Alberta Parks told CBC News. 

He says the funds have also been used to get more rangers on the ground to help visitors, hiring an incoming public safety specialist to tackle the surge in rescue calls, and increasing garbage and toilet maintenance.

"I think it is making a difference."

Alberta Parks says 21,500 day passes for the region and 55,600 annual passes have been sold since the initiative began. Roycroft estimates Kananaskis will continue to see near-record levels of visitation in 2021. 

The provincial government has been criticized for some of its parks policies, and critics say they need to be transparent about whether this new pass is accomplishing the goals the minister outlined.  

"We want to get some sort of sense about whether or not these sorts of fees actually are a deterrent for people getting out and hiking and enjoying the outdoors," Ian Urquhart, the executive director of the Alberta Wilderness Association, said. 

He said the province needs to be open about where in the dollars are being spent, how the cost affects low income Albertans, and any other unintended consequences from introducing the pass. 

"People have to care enough to try to hold government accountable for what they said they were going to do with this pass and with this money."

While the implementation has had technical glitches, Roycroft said his team is happy with the uptake and rollout of the program so far.

Day-use passes cost $15 per vehicle while an annual vehicle pass, which can be used 365 days from its date of purchase, is $90. Two vehicles can be assigned to an annual pass if they are registered to the same address.

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