A more than $4 million infrastructure project will see Grassi Lakes and Goat Creek day-use areas closed for the summer to undertake much needed upgrades for trails, parking and public transit.
The province announced the project Friday (March 25) with the intent to help ease parking congestion, improve safety and help with outdoor recreation.
While it means the work will see popular trails and climbing areas such as Ha Ling Trail, Grassi Lakes Trail and climbing area, East End of Rundle route and climbing area and Riders of Rohan Mountain bike trail closed, the aim will see the region improved for visitors in years to come.
Jason Nixon, the province’s Minister of Environment and Parks, said money from the Kananaskis Conservation Pass – which collected $12 million last year – is being used to finance the work.
“The entire Kananaskis Conservation Pass is being invested into Kananaskis,” he said. “In fact, significantly more than what the Kananaskis Conservation Pass is being invested inside Kananaskis.”
The work will see the area closed the rest of the year because of construction that will see the Grassi Lakes main lot and Goat Creek lot expanded, two bridges replaced on Goat Creek Trail, refurbish parts of Grassi Lakes trail and formalize the Grassi Lakes overflow parking lot.
Rachel Ludwig, Tourism Canmore Kananaskis chief executive officer, said the reinvestment of revenue from the conservation pass is promising to see, especially with it helping tourism-based infrastructure.
“Tourism is the largest sector of the Canmore economy. It reaches all corners of our community,” she said. “It brings $345 million in revenue annually and supports 4,000 jobs in our small community. A strong visitor economy creates opportunities that would not be possible without tourism.”
She noted while popular trails will be closed as the work is underway, visitor staff will help people find additional spots in Kananaskis Country.
In addition to the project, the Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Park will expand by 610 acres to increase the size of Kananaskis Country.
The land is the Wyocan expansion area that’s on the southwest side of the valley and the Silvertip expansion area on the northeast side of the valley.
“It’s a parcel of land that’s been surrounded by park for a number of years that the province recently purchased and is being brought into the park through order in council,” said Michael Roycroft, the director of Kananaskis Region. “It’s always been the plan to bring it into the park, but it provides further protection for animals going through in the wildlife corridor and ensures that land won’t be developed in the future.”
The Wyocan area is near the undeveloped golf course that’s owned by Three Sisters Mountain Village (TSMV). Roycroft said they’re continuing to work with TSMV and the Canmore Area Mountain Bike Alliance to resolve issues of trespassing on the privately-owned TSMV land that had been encountered last year.
Nixon said the land expansion is to help improve the conservation area and won’t have an impact on existing access for recreation.
While Nixon stressed that all money from the Kananaskis Conservation pass is being returned to assist Kananaskis Country, it hasn’t been without public skepticism.
Much of the controversy in regards to the Kananaskis Conservation Pass has come from the lack of transparency. Though the province has made investments in the region and highlighted how much is spent, it’s not entirely clear how much is from the pass and how much is from the government’s tax base.
Marlin Schmidt, the NDP’s environment critic and the MLA for the Edmonton-Gold Bar riding, said the government needs to be more transparent with the pass.
“I think the onus is really on the government to continue to show people what they’re getting for the money that they’re paying to go to Kananaskis Country,” he said. “Because from everything that I’ve heard from people who have been there, they don’t see the value that they’re getting from the money that they’re being asked to pay.”
Schmidt noted how if there’s going to be a fee – one the NDP opposed – a full value needs to be on display.
“In my view, if you wanted to charge a fee, you would provide transparency, but not only that, you’d also have set your goals. These are the things we want to accomplish by charging the fee and so they set they set the fee accordingly and they didn’t do that. They just came up with a random number and then have been dishing out grants with no goal in mind, no process in place for dishing out those grants.”
Nixon said prior to the conservation pass, about 65 to 70 per cent of Kananaskis Country was subsidized by taxes. However, since the pass was released, it has shifted to 60 per cent user fees and 40 per cent from taxes, which is more in line with other areas of the province with a user fee.
The conservation pass is also expected to bring in $15 million this year, he said.
Nixon listed off a slew of investments for Kananaskis Country totalling more than $20 million such as $3.5 million for 30 new seasonal workers, $1.5 million for six new conservation officers, about $1 million for the bus for Grassi Lakes and roughly $17.5 million for the Canmore Nordic Centre.
However, he stopped short of committing to releasing specifically where each dollar is going, other than to say it is reinvested in Kananaskis Country. He noted the Alberta budget outlines where the money goes, but the provincial budget doesn’t have a specific section for the Kananaskis Conservation pass.
The 2022 budget saw Alberta Environment and Parks receive $604 million – an increase of $105 million from the previous budget – but Parks were allocated $75 million. The 2020-21 budget for Parks was $76 million and rose to $81 million last year.
In an Oct. 18, 2021 announcement on the Kananaskis Conservation Pass at the Canmore Nordic Centre, Nixon also said the pass “supported the hiring of 20 new conservation officers”.
A subsequent March 18 media release announced that the “hiring and training of these new conservation officers was made possible by revenues from the Kananaskis Conservation pass.”
Nixon said people were “reading a little too much into that one sentence” and that the number of conservation officers in the province have increased by a third, with the Kananaskis Conservation pass only paying for the six officers for Kananaskis Country.
“It’s 100 per cent by Alberta law by the treasury board in processes that are in place with Alberta finance to be invested back inside Kananaskis.”
What’s being done
- Expand and formalize the Grassi Lakes main parking lot
- Refurbish portions of the Grassi Lakes trail
- Formalize the Grassi Lakes overflow parking lot
- Provide a road crossing and trail connection between the overflow and main lots
- Provide separation and washroom facilities between the climber’s lot and the Smith Dorrien Trail
- Expand and formalize the main Goat Creek parking lot
- Replace two bridges on Goat Creek trail
Trail closures include:
- Grassi Lakes Trail
- Junkyard Trail
- Ha Ling Trail
- Miner’s Peak Trail
- Goat Creek Trail
- East End of Rundle Route
- Reclaimer Mountain Bike Trail
- Riders of Rohan Mountain Bike Trail
- access to High Rockies Trail from Goat Creek
Climbing area closures include:
- Grassi Lakes Climbing Area
- Ha Ling Climbing Area
- East End of Rundle Climbing Area
Estimated number of visits to Kananaskis Country
- 2015: 3,597,678
- 2016: 3,706,633
- 2017: 3,733,772
- 2018: 3,793,782
- 2019: 4,111,942
- 2020: 5,412,443
- 2021: 5,015,423