UCP announces user fees for Kananaskis, citing increased traffic and expenses

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Visitors to Kananaskis will soon have to pay to play as the provincial government announces it is bringing in new fees for the popular recreation area.

Beginning June 1, 2021, park users will be charged $15 per vehicle a day or $90 for an annual pass.

In a video press conference from Kananaskis this afternoon, Minister of Environment and Parks Jason Nixon said revenue from the fees will be reinvested into the park through infrastructure upgrades, including improvements to the Williams Watson Lodge and popular day use areas.

“Kananaskis is in a unique situation. (Other provincial parks) don’t see the same level of use, the same level of conservation value and the same level of services so in the case of Kananaskis we have the highest level of services anywhere in the provincial parks, the highest level of use in the provincial parks system and that requires a unique situation to be able to make sure that we can conserve it,” he said.

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“Two thirds of Albertans have been clear they prefer to pay a modest fee to be able to make sure they can protect these landscapes and receive the services they need while they’re in.”

The main goal of the “conservation pass,” Nixon said, is to reduce vehicle traffic coming into Kananaskis and he added that in addition to supporting environmental sustainability of the area, revenue from the fee system may be put into “increased parking locations.”

Nixon also committed to their being “no intention” of the UCP government to introduce pay per use fees to any other provincial parks in Alberta but added the model itself serves a useful purpose.

“Alberta’s government is committed to protecting these places and the legacy associated with them and if there are other landscapes that eventually find themselves in the same situation as Kananaskis… where you’re seeing a high level of services needed, a high level of use and a high level of conservation need by the taxpayer to invest inside that area, I’m sure future governments will look towards this model,” he said.

However, municipal affairs critic Joe Ceci said Tuesday that the UCP government is reducing accessibility to Albertans by introducing new fees into “parks that belong to them.”

“I see this impacting working families in Alberta already being pushed to the brink by the pandemic and the long list of new costs Jason Kenney has imposed on them,” he said. “This government is making life far more expensive for Alberta families.”

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Ceci called the fees an “insult to the legacy of Peter Lougheed”, adding the measures were not mentioned in the 2021 Alberta budget.

“They’ve proven time and time again that parks are not a priority for them as a government,” he said. “If my taxes aren’t paying for things like parks, you’ve got to be wasting money.

“What’s going to be next?”

Kananaskis regional director Michael Roycroft said Monday more resources are needed to cope with the added expense of maintaining the mountain area as visitors arrive in record numbers. In 2020, more than five million people visited the area — a million more people than Banff National Park.

“Parking lots were at capacity and overflowing, parking on the roadways, human waste, garbage, wildlife attractants were all a significant challenge for us,” said Roycroft.

Under the new fee structure, commercial vehicles with 15 people or less will have to pay $22.50 daily or $135 annually. A commercial vehicle with 16 people or more will have to pay $30 or $180 annually.

Two vehicles and one trailer will be allowed to register under one pass, only having to pay once.

Residents of Canmore, Harvie Heights, Lac des Arc and Exshaw will also have to pay to use areas within the Kananaskis recreation zone if travelling by car, including to the Cougar Creek Trail Head and Grassi Lakes day use area.

Exemptions to the fee program include First Nations individuals, vehicles passing through the area, facility operators, visitors arriving on bike and on free days during the year.

Visitors will need to register their vehicles by licence plate online ahead of their visit or by using new wifi hotspots or at visitors centres and the Canmore Nordic Centre.

More to come…

ocondon@postmedia.com

Twitter: oliviacondon

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