Concerns grow for off-highway vehicle users in Castle Provincial Parks


 Hundreds Gathered for a town hall meeting in Bellevue Tuesday night to express concerns over the NDP’s future plans for the Castle Area, the most contentious issue: phasing out the use of off highway vehicles, Sarah Komadina reports.

A celebration for the Alberta government has turned into anguish for many off-highway vehicle enthusiasts.

Steps to strengthen protection in the Castle Wilderness area, about 250 kilometres from Calgary, include plans to phase out all OHV use in five years.

READ MORE: Off-highway vehicle enthusiasts fight proposed ban in new Alberta parks 

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“We have seen a lot of disturbance… And (in) year one, we would be closing the out the illegal trails,” Environment Minister Shannon Phillips said.

More than 600 people, travelling from Medicine Hat, Edmonton and Calgary turned out for a Town Hall meeting in Bellevue Tuesday to voice their concerns.

“There’s people that respect the trails, maintain them, there’s thousands of dollars and volunteer hours that go into maintaining those trails,” said Troy Dezall, a board member of the Alberta Off-Highway Association. “We have to be careful because if they block off one area, they will keep making their way up Alberta.”

“It just makes me almost terrified to think that my kids or other (people’s) kids may never get those memories again,” OHV enthusiast Kolby McCole said.

READ MORE: Alberta to expand Castle area parks, phase out off-highway vehicles

The NDP says the Castle Wildland Provincial Park and the new Castle Provincial Park will protect over 100,000 hectares of land and 200 rare or at-risk species.

The next phase involves two months of consultation to develop a firm management plan.

READ MORE: Doubts raised about plan to protect Alberta wilderness area 

“That is exactly why we put out a draft, to hear from the public and get comments on what people would like to see done,” Phillips said. “I have also received hundreds of letters to our ministry office.”

Phillips wasn’t at the meeting, but the opposition MLA for Livingstone-Macleod was, and he wants more time for feedback.

“I asked for a 120 days consultation… and for the government to come out in that 120-day period to hold that town hall, to give the general public, the end users who have never had the chance to be consulted, an opportunity to voice their opinions to perhaps offer better solutions,” MLA Pat Stier said.

READ MORE: Alberta government moves to protect vast Castle wilderness 

Many from the meeting are waiting for that solution. Hundreds have signed a petition and sent letters to get their point across.

“I think this sends a clear message to the government that we are concerned,” Dezall said. “They’re not listening to us. I don’t know who they’re listening to, but it’s not us.”

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