May 2022 Meeting Highlights – Explore Nordegg & Abraham Lake

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Discussions with Alberta Parks on current challenges, like communication and permits along with opportunities for parks in the region.

This was a special meeting organized to provide an opportunity to continue the conversation with Alberta Parks that was started at the April 2022 meeting. Shane Schreiber, the Assistant Deputy Minister of Parks Operations, and Darren Tansowny, the Executive Director of Park Operations were visiting the region and made the time to meet with us for a wide-ranging discussion.

One item discussed was how a lot of changes have happened over the past 10 years, including new businesses involved full-time in tourism and new managers at long-term operators like HeLa Ventures, the Goldeye Centre and Frontier Lodge. This change, combined with most of us living permanently in Nordegg, means that how we work with AEP is changing. This includes looking at options to have a better representation for Nordegg-based businesses on the Bighorn Backcountry Committee and looking at options for a more coordinated approach between departments. Having a single point of contact within AEP, similar to the Destination Development Managers role at Travel Alberta, would make things easier for existing and new operators.

On the communication side, the discussion included a desire to have Alberta Parks staff based in Nordegg who can answer visitor questions. A location in town would be preferred to the ranger station as a way to draw in visitors and support the local economy. In the meantime, the Nordegg Canteen, Miners’ Cafe, the Nordegg Lodge, Beehive Artisans Market and the gas stations are the main places visitors go to when they are looking for information in town and guides are being asked for information elsewhere. The recommendations were to have AEP use an email list to share relevant information, including closures, directly with the businesses so that it can be shared with the visitors.

We also discussed the need for more enforcement but it was noted that we are already seeing some improvements in this area, including more permit checks for guides. This brought up a discussion about the permitting process which continues to be a challenge, especially around timelines, consistency, communication, and the need to submit a full application annually. Options like a 3-year permit similar to the TFAs or a simplified renewal process were highlighted as ways to make the systems more efficient while ensuring that the land management objectives are met.

A number of infrastructure projects that were mentioned in the Bighorn Country proposal are going ahead. This is good to see since a lot of work was done by all of us to identify needs like parking lots, signage, toilets, garbage bins and campgrounds as part of that process. Moving forward, it was suggested that signage on public lands should promote a connection between parks and the local community (possibly through Explore Nordegg & Abraham Lake branding, David Thompson Country or Travel Alberta) and that more information should be provided on how locals can contribute to the building or maintenance of trails. The Trails Act will help address this but finding information can be a challenge.

The feedback we heard is that it was great to see Alberta Parks taking the time to come in to talk directly with local businesses. The consultations for Bighorn Country were handled by a consulting firm which made it hard to talk directly with parks staff, leading to small challenges becoming major issues in some cases. Having discussions like these help all of us feel better about Alberta Parks.

It was a positive but open discussion focused on how we can work together to improve the visitor experience while minimizing the negative impacts of tourism and outdoor recreation. The plan is to continue the conversation throughout the fall and to host a meeting like this on an annual basis, preferably in the spring before the busy summer season.

Thanks to Alberta Parks, Expanse Cottages, HeLa Ventures, Nordegg Escape, Nordegg Adventures and Clearwater County for joining us on a busy long weekend.

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