Improving Tourism on Public Lands

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Tourism on public lands takes many forms, from arts and sightseeing to outdoor recreation. It’s a major aspect of our visitor economy impacting all tourism sectors including restaurants, retail, lodging and guided activities.

We’ve seen a lot of improvements over the past 5 years: blue wayfinding signs at trailheads, new parking lots, toilets, garbage bins, winter maintenance and more. These have improved the visitor experience and are making it possible for local businesses to expand their operations.

We’re now looking ahead to the priorities for the next 3 years. Many thanks to the local operators who’ve provided feedback at our Explore Nordegg & Abraham Lake March Partners Meeting, through our industry survey and in many conversations over the past few months.

Each of the priorities impacts the operators in different ways but three were at the top of the list across all sectors:

  • Improving trailheads and staging areas.
  • Improving signage and the sharing of visitor information.
  • Improving industry communications.

These priorities are nothing new, most have been identified over the past 40 years in various studies and destination development plans.

The majority of the feedback centred around improving communications. This includes consultation with stakeholders to address concerns with infrastructure before it’s built, sharing information earlier in the process about planned closures and working together to make sure that visitors have the information they need to enjoy their visit.

The improvements that would have the greatest impact are listed below. If you have any questions or anything you would like to add, please reach out to annabelle@explorenordegg.ca.

THE PRIORITIES

1. IMPROVING TRAILHEADS AND STAGING AREAS

Some of the existing trailheads are not suitable for tourism operators and new staging areas are needed to improve the visitor experience.

The priorities:

  • Improve the Hoodoo Creek, Kinglet Lake and Landslide Lake Fire Interpretive Trail trailheads to provide access to vans and small buses.
  • Build or improve the trailhead amenities at climbing areas (locations TBD), Thompson Creek (year-round), Tershishner Creek, Whitegoat Falls and Vision Quest, BATUS Canyon and Eagle Mountain / Upper Beaverdam PRA.
  • Increased engagement with local operators in the planning process to ensure that facilities meet the needs of the tourism industry.

What we’ve heard from local operators:

The new trailhead amenities are an amazing improvement for the visitor experience. Unfortunately, some of them were built without consideration for operators like us. We were able to safely park off the highway before the parking lots were built but at some locations where we now have to park on the road due since the parking lot can’t handle a 15 passenger van or small bus.

Garbage bins and washrooms provide a better impression for visitors to our area and help create an environmentally sustainable experience.

It provides the staff here with the confidence to send visitors to the area knowing they will be finding the adventures they seek.

2. IMPROVING SIGNAGE AND VISITOR INFORMATION

Information about recreation on public lands can be difficult to find for visitors.

The priorities:

  • Collaborate with local guides to remove outdated information on the Bighorn Backcountry Map.
  • Distribute notices and updates to local businesses by email so that they can be shared with visitors.
  • Install trailhead signage for river and ice safety.
  • Install interpretive and tourism information signage at trailheads.

What we’ve heard from local operators:

All of this works together to provide a greater tourism experience, ensure visitors are aware of safety, and improve the management of the visitor experience.

Clear and current information would be a big plus for our guests. So many of our guests ask for tips & suggestions on where to explore and it’s not always easy getting them to the right place.

3. IMPROVING INDUSTRY COMMUNICATIONS

Operators often find out about closures with very limited notice. This is even more of an issue for export-ready products working on a 12 to 18 months timeline.

The priorities:

  • Notify operators early in the planning process of potential closures and/or operational impacts.
  • Email notices and advisories to permit holders as they are posted and removed.
  • Include tourism and local representation on the Bighorn Backcountry Committee.

What we’ve heard from local operators:

We plan our business experiences at least a year in advance and visitors make reservations in many cases over a year in advance. Planning for trail closures, PRA changes/upgrades must be planned a minimum of a year in advance and communicated with stakeholders.

As a business that gets a lot of questions about the area, not knowing what is happening makes it hard to share correct or up-to-date information. It will also allow us to know before we show up with a group of guests that a trail is closed and we can plan around closures

4. IMPROVING ACCESS TO THE NORTH SASKATCHEWAN RIVER

Some of the existing river accesses are not suitable for tourism operators or require upgrades to improve the visitor experience.

The priorities:

  • Provide river access to commercial operators and improve the public portage trail at Owen Creek.
  • Create designated river accesses at the borrow pit (near Thompson Creek), Wildhorse Creek Camping Area and Preacher’s South Camping Area.
  • Improve the river access at the Aylmer and Saunders PRAs.
  • Increased engagement with local operators in the planning process to ensure that facilities meet the needs of the tourism industry.

What we’ve heard from local operators:

Currently, it is difficult and sometimes unsafe to take visitors on the river when river access is sketchy. Random camping in areas that were created for access has reduced the ability to access the river and has created an eyesore at these accesses. The lack of parking creates a barrier to providing river-based opportunities. Signage is also important from a safety perspective. Warnings regarding the waterlevels and hazards needs to be readily visible at the various access points.

Allow us to access the lake with larger watercraft, suited for that body of water for fishing, lake tours, and site seeing. The view of the area mountains from the lake is breathtaking.

5. IMPROVING THE GUIDING PERMIT PROCESS

The current short-term permits make it difficult for operators to invest in their operations and new products.

The priorities:

  • Offer longer terms for established operators and/or a simplified renewal process.
  • Provide concierge-type service to assist operators through the multi-department approvals process.

What we’ve heard from local operators:

The amount of time dedicated to obtaining permits, and the continuous, yearly requirement to provide the same information is taxing and frustrating. We cannot build a business where we are afraid to offer a product that we have provided for years, because permitting may be an issue.

The current process is very difficult to navigate and many individuals in the Lands Division are unclear about what is needed and why. One liaison for the area that can handle Access Permits, TFA’s, questions and problems as they arise with a simplified application would help tremendously. Multi-year permits are a must! Investment into additional experiences is difficult if there is not a multi-year commitment.

Without the concierge type service, new operators have a lot of information to wade through and it can be quite confusing on what is actually required.

6. IMPROVING SAFETY & ENFORCEMENT

As visitations increase, additional resources are required to provide a safe and positive visitor experience.

The priorities:

  • Install speed reductions and/or traffic calming options at the Nordegg access, trailheads and camping areas.
  • Increase enforcement activities and the number of officers based in Nordegg.

What we’ve heard from local operators:

It would not affect our operations much, but as for guest experience providing a sense of comfort and safety when travelling to a new place can only be a good thing. The reduced speed at popular turnoffs is a no-brainer. For example, the turn from Shunda Creek Road onto the highway and then into the townsite always makes me nervous, especially in the winter. Slower speed there, along with many others along the lake, would be great and make everyone safer.

More law enforcement is a must, especially with all the new rentals/Airbnb in town. What are we supposed to do in the case of an emergency when one property or some visitors get out of hand? We are basically on our own out here and have to hope that no situation arises that would require police.

7. REOPENING THE DEVELOPMENT NODES

The established nodes (White Goat Lakes, Shunda/Goldeye and Saunders/Alexo) are not currently available for development.

The priorities:

  • Involve the industry early in the planning process.
  • Reduce duplication between the Government of Alberta and Clearwater County through a single approval framework.

What we’ve heard from local operators:

Opening the nodes would allow for planning and management and create a more environmentally sustainable oppportunity for visitors. This would also provide so many more opportunties. The Whitegoat area needs very careful planning to ensure that sensitive environment is maintained.

Meeting location and accommodations west of Nordegg are needed to draw visitors from Banff and Lake Louise.

A single framework would make it easier – the operators out here already have to work with many layers of the government.

8. IMPROVING ALBERTA PARKS CAMPGROUNDS

The current services result in a limited visitor experience.

The priorities:

  • Provide showers and additional services at Fish Lake.
  • Provide year-round comfort camping at select PRAs and Camping Areas.
  • Create an option for commercial operators to book and package individual campsites for their guests through the reservation system.

What we’ve heard from local operators:

Increased opportunities for comfortable overnight accommodations year-round is critical in our area. It will allow for year-round staffing, a continuous stream of opportunity and revenue in our area. But more needs to be done. Greater access to winter activities needs also to be a priority. Trail construction, warming huts, etc. to provide snowshowers, XC skiers, and backcountry skiers with opportunities will boost the tourism industry in our area greatly.

This would not affect us directly as we are an accommodations business. But we know that accommodations in Nordegg are full throughout the summer, so more types of lodging/campgrounds are needed.

Increased year-round options would allow us to continue to grow our winter products while improvements at Fish Lake would encourage longer stays, resulting in more tour sales. The ability to package our tours with campsites would allow us to offer a better experience for visitors who are hesitant to book since many sites are first-come first-served.

9. IMPROVING THE OHV TRAIL NETWORK

The current trails result in limited contributions by OHVs to the local visitor economy.

The priorities:

  • Install trail signage to lead riders to the townsite.
  • Complete the trail network with nodes at the Bighorn Dam, Saunders and Nordegg.
  • Relocate the Nordegg staging area to the townsite.
  • Increased engagement with local operators in the planning process to ensure that facilities meet the needs of the tourism industry.

What we’ve heard from local operators:

We have many guests that come to ride the trails. They often get lost and take quite a while to find their way back or need us to come find them…. or we spend a lot of time explaining where to go with our handmade maps. This would help with newcomers being able to finding their way around, having a great experience and spreading the word, encouraging more riders to come, stay and explore with confidence.

I think it is wise to move staging area for quadding connection to town site because it draws people into town which encourages dollars being spent locally. Also having one staging area that can connect to all trails alleviates frustrations for visitors and adds to their quadding experience.


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