Trail restrictions enforced
Conservation Officers are warning the public to respect travel restrictions on the benchland between Cougar Creek and Harvie Heights in order to give animals space as they move through local wildlife corridors.
While the travel ban has been in place since 2005 following the closure of the Upper Benchlands Trail through a ministerial order, officers have recently found evidence of trespassing in the wildlife corridor. They estimate hikers and cyclists are using the decommisioned trail between Silvertip and Harvie Heights on a weekly basis.
“Our inspections tell us the area is still being used,” said conservation officer Arian Spiteri. “This is a wildlife corridor and pinch point between the town and the peaks. It’s frequently used by elk, grizzly bears, cougar, bighorn sheep and black bears. It provides wary animals with the opportunity to move through the area freely.”
Currently, travel is only allowed on two designated trails in the area – the Montane Traverse and the Lady MacDonald trail. Leaving the trail or using secondary trails is prohibited year-round.
Senior biologist with Kananaskis Country Melanie Percy said maintaining a proper corridor for wildlife is integral to the health of local species.
“The way this valley has been developed is from top to bottom. You can see we’ve left ribbons of high elevation habitat. Because there’s been so much development on the lower areas, we need to secure the higher areas for wildlife movement,” Percy said.
Fresh log cuts and tracks are visible on several other trails in the closed area, and Spiteri said officers would begin ticketing trespassers in the immediate future.
“We will be patrolling the area and will issue fines,” Spiteri said.
Those caught in the closed area will be fined $287 and could have their equipment confiscated.
Eighteen volunteer Kananaskis Stewards and four Alberta Parks employees worked for five hours erecting signs and tearing up unofficial trails on Tuesday (June 12) in the closed area. The crew hiked deep into the woods from the Silvertip Golf Course and worked tirelessly in an effort to deter human activity in the area.
“We hope to get signage on all of the access points and reclaim the entrance to the trails,” Spiteri said.
Officially closed in 2005, the decision did raise the ire of some in the mountain bike community, however most official groups recognize the closure as positive, and now use the popular Montane Traverse trail located slightly below the former trail.
“By building the Montane Traverse trail, recreational opportunities were provided lower down the valley. People can still recreate in that area without having as high an impact on wildlife,” Percy said. “There are very few movement opportunities coming through the east. They’re generally all pushed up into that area.”
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