CAPTION: The new Taunton Trestle Bridge between Rocky Mountain House and Nordegg. | Alberta Ministry of Forestry and ParksScott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

When it comes to summarizing the year 2023 in terms of Alberta’s forests and parks, it’s important to take a moment to recognize the many positive and constructive things that happened, said Minister of Forestry and Parks Todd Loewen.

The boon for Alberta’s provincial parks and trails came in at the top of that list. The ministry has invested tens of millions in support of its commitment to build more campground spaces.

“We’ve been doing a lot of work renewing campsites, so that they’re more suitable for the larger RVs that people are using now. A lot of our campgrounds were built in the 70s, 80s, and even 90s when the RVs weren’t near as big or as common as they are now,” Loewen said.

“We need to make sure we’re fulfilling Albertans’ needs by making sure that we have places for them to go, and then when they get there that they enjoy their time there.”

The province has been at work identifying campgrounds where the number of campsites can be increased.

Alberta Parks has also reinstated seasonal park interpretation from May through August in Switzer Park and added an additional Conservation Officer for the Hinton District.

Education programs are again being offered to schools in May and June while amphitheater shows, guided hikes, special events and family programs are back on for July and August.

The provincial made substantial investments in Alberta’s trail system as well.

In November, Loewen announced the opening of the historic 109 km Rail Trail and the Taunton Trestle bridge between Rocky Mountain House and Nordegg. The province has repurposed it into a multi-use recreational trail.

“That was an exciting one there,” he said.

The Prairie Mountain Trail and several other trails are still in progress in Kananaskis. His ministry has been in communication with residents in Peace Country about their trails that they would like to see either built or improved.

“There’s a lot of things on the go when it comes to trails on public lands,” Loewen said.

He was also thrilled about reopening the Winagami Lake Provincial Park wading pool in August after it closed a few years ago. He said it’s been an incredible hit, and the kids love it.

“I probably received more positive responses from that than just about anything else that we’ve done. It’s been amazing.”

There are many things on the go elsewhere in his portfolio, too. He said there has been much work behind the scenes to make changes in the fishing regulations. Anglers can anticipate an update this spring.

“This last fishing season, we did open up some more lakes and some more opportunity for people to fish so that they can keep more fish and not hurt the resource. We’ll be doing even more of that for this upcoming fishing season.”

Improving the parks reservation system has been ongoing as well, something that he expects to come online soon.

The new facility at the Nordic Centre in Canmore is close to being finished as well, which will add to the world-class training and competition facility.

With all that view to what the future holds, Loewen said it was still important to remember the trials of the unprecedented wildfire season that Alberta just went through. The amount of land that was burned last year was 10 times the five-year average.

“We’ve definitely learned some things from this fire season,” he said.

“We have some changes and plans for this next season to make sure we can do everything we can to protect Albertans and their properties.”

Wildfire season doesn’t officially start until March 1, but with our relatively low snowfall, a wildfire could still start in the dead of winter. Regardless, there is still a lot of wildfire preparation work that happens between November and February.

The Alberta Wildfire Status Dashboard shows that there have not been any new wildfires started in 2024. All 64 wildfires shown on the map are either being held or under control.

Several are considered mutual aid events, meaning the wildfire is outside of the Forest Protection Area and assistance is being provided to the lead agency.

“We’re still actively fighting fire,” Loewen said. 

“This year, we’re going to have our firefighters trained and ready to go a couple of weeks earlier than what we’ve had in the past. Last year, the big fires started earlier than normal.”

He noted that the province is looking forward to utilizing more night vision equipment to help firefighters do their job and protect people and their property.

By Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jan 25, 2024 at 09:00

This item reprinted with permission from    The Fitzhugh    Jasper, Alberta

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