Provincial parks proposal released for Bighorn area of Rocky Mountains

Three provincial parks and four recreation areas and a wildland park are proposed for Bighorn Country on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains around Nordegg.

3 provincial parks, 4 recreation areas and wildland park planned for area near Nordegg

The Alberta government wants to protect the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains near Nordegg. (Government of Alberta )

A wildland park, three provincial parks and four recreation areas are proposed for Bighorn Country on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains near Nordegg.

The government released the plan Friday in tandem with the start of a consultation period that runs until the end of January.  

Premier Rachel Notley likened the proposal to the creation of Kananaskis Country by former Alberta premier Peter Lougheed to stem development near Banff National Park in the 1970s.

"Just like premier Lougheed did with K-Country, today we are seizing the opportunity to create something special," Notley said. "That something special is the Bighorn Country."

Notley said increasing demands on the land have prompted the government to take action. She said the area includes the headwaters of the North Saskatchewan River, which provides drinking water for the city of Edmonton.

Off-highway vehicle enthusiasts are wary the plan will limit where they can go. The proposal includes designated areas for all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles.  

The province wants to spend $40 million to create the infrastructure for backcountry and front-country camping, hiking, paddling, snowmobile and off-highway vehicle use.

Under the proposal, David Thompson, North Saskatchewan River and Ya Ha Tinda Provincial Parks will have trails for hiking and horseback riding, and staging areas for kayaks and canoes. 

David Thompson and Ya Ha Tinda will have spots for RV and car campers. 

The Snow Creek, Bighorn Dam and Hummingbird Provincial Recreation Areas will have designated trails and staging areas for off-road vehicles.

The Bighorn Wildland Provincial Park is being created to preserve large swaths of the region that borders Jasper and Banff National Parks. It will be open to backcountry campers, hunters and fishers.

Horseback riding and off-road vehicles would remain on existing designated trails.

United Conservative Party MLA Jason Nixon's Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre constituency covers much of the Bighorn area. He has raised the concerns of area ATV users in the legislature.

Nixon said he plans to spend the weekend looking at the Bighorn proposal and talking to constituents. He appears unconvinced the consultation will be adequate. 

"We'll of course review the proposal announced today," he said in a written statement. "But I am deeply concerned with what appears to be a complete dismissal of the regional advisory council's recommendations with respect to the future of the Bighorn." 

"I am also skeptical of any 'consultation' done by this government. After all, this was the government that held fake consultations after the fact to justify its carbon tax, a tax that two-thirds of Albertans have consistently opposed."

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