In July 2014 the government released the final draft of the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan that, among other initiatives, created a new park, the Castle Wildland Provincial Park. While the AHA applauded this step forward in a battle that, since the late 1960s, has pitted hikers and other non-motorized recreationists against the logging and natural gas and oil industries, and unrestricted OHV usage, the Plan fell short by not protecting the forests and wetlands of lower elevations. We felt strongly that protection needed to be extended in order to protect these headwaters of the Oldman Basin.
In a dramatic move, Shannon Phillips, Minister for the Environment, announced on Friday 4 September that the boundaries of the Castle Wildland Provincial Park would be extended to include the lower levels of the Castle. As a consequence, the Castle is now almost twice as large as the previous government’s original plan. The AHA is very pleased that this 104,000-hectare park will now protect the wetlands, valleys and lower slopes of the area.
The South Saskatchewan Regional Plan will now be amended to give some teeth to the protection of the area. Commercial logging will be discontinued. There will be no new oil and gas leases, although existing leases will be honoured, and grazing leases will continue to be allowed. All other leases will be cancelled.
The Castle is to be divided into a wildland provincial park with limited backcountry camping, and another provincial park that will be designed with full camping facilities. Planning for the “new and improved” park will begin next year.
Further information can be found at: www.albertaparks.ca/consult.