A three-hour information session on the Alberta government’s controversial proposed Bighorn Country parks took place in Red Deer Sunday afternoon.
The Harvest Centre at Westerner Park was set up to provide information, including sections on the new Wildland Provincial Park, new, expanded or amended parks, recreations areas and public land-use zones.
Officials listened to the public’s questions and concerns while notetakers recorded what was said.
Rick Blackwood, an assistant deputy minister for Alberta Environment and Parks, said the information sessions are not meant to ‘sell anything to the public. The aim is to show the public what’s involved with the proposal and get feedback, he said.
“What we are talking about today is simply a proposal,” he said.
“We will be taking all of the information we hear from these sessions, all of the notetakers comments, even all of the personal interactions that we’ve had, and feeding it back into our system and then when the survey session closes on the 15th, we’ll take all of that information and see how it aligns with what was proposed with part of the proposal.”
Significant opposition to the $40-million proposal has been mounting since it was announced last November. The plan would create four provincial parks, four provincial recreation areas and a new public land-use zone area.
More than 1,000 people came out to a rally opposing the proposal in Red Deer on Thursday. The protesters took issue with a range of topics related to the proposal.
Despite the opposition, certain environmental groups support the plan, saying it could protect endangered animals, such as the wolverine, grizzly bear and bull trout as well as headwaters in the eastern foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
Hundreds filled the Harvest Centre Sunday to learn more about the proposal. Many still weren’t convinced it’s the best course of action for Bighorn Country.
Mike Doll from Airdrie said he believes the information session is ‘smoke and mirrors.’
“This government doesn’t give a damn what happens and what our comments are and what our feedback is as the public. They are going to jam it down our throats no matter what,” he said.
“This information session is just going through the motions. Had this been truthful and honest, the informational settings would have been a lot more public where we could access all the information way earlier than this. It’s too late at this point.”
Darcy Schatschmieder said he has been using Bighorn Country for the past 50 years to hunt, camp and use off-highway vehicles like the ATVs. He thinks the proposal is a bad idea.
“It can’t possibly work. They are basically forcing us to do what they want us to do and not giving us a vote,” he said.
“You do see people who abuse the area but there are a lot more people out there that clean up after those people and respect the area,” he continued.
“If the government is worried about that, maybe they should spend more money enforcing the laws out there. If they are going to waste $40-million, why not use it for something like that.”
But in a telephone town hall in mid-January, Minister Shannon Phillips, of Alberta Environment and Parks, said the proposal would not affect designated OHV (off-highway vehicles) trails in the provincial and wildland parks.
“Some of our $40 million proposed investment is to improve existing trails and support the local user groups that have been doing this work for decades without government support,” she explained.
But Tom Hibbs from Red Deer said he has difficulty believing what the government says.
“They promise this and that but the record from down south is that they don’t do what they say, so how can you trust them is all I got to say.”