KANANSKIS – A paid parking pitch in Kananaskis Country is in front of Alberta Environment and Parks that would enable cross-country ski trails to stay groomed this winter.
Nordiq Alberta is proposing a voluntary paid parking pass program for the 2020-21 season that would charge $10 per day or $50 annually to cover the cost of grooming trails after funding was slashed earlier this year by the provincial government.
"Our proposal is only for Peter Lougheed Provincial Park (PLPP) at this time," said Ken Hewitt, a spokesperson with Nordiq Alberta in an email.
The grooming would cover at least 120 kilometres worth of trails in the Kananaskis region.
Nordiq Alberta’s pilot project’s goals are to raise $210,000, which would be provided to Alberta Environment and Parks to continue grooming trails for the season. The group estimates just over one third of motorists, up to 15,500, will pay in a combination of both types of passes.
According to the proposal, the payment would be voluntary, as Nordiq Alberta doesn’t have the time or mechanisms to legislate. Clearly marked volunteers would patrol on weekends and holidays and would be supported by signage and public information.
“We’re not saying in order for this to be feasible we need to get 100 per cent compliance rates with individuals using the area,” said Idan Wolach, Nordiq Alberta’s programs and communications coordinator.
“There always is that concern, where you’re going to have people not paying those fees, but I also think … in the grand scheme of things, especially for an outdoor activity, the $50 annual fee is not an absurd ask especially when you start comparing that to downhill skiing for instance.”
Wolach added that due to COVID-19 and the ability to physical distance, they might see an increase in usage on the trails this season.
The paid parking pass system was the best option for this season, said Wolach, as grooming equipment and protocols are already set in place.
Banff-Kananaskis MLA Miranda Rosin declined to comment on Nordiq Alberta's proposal due to the provincial government receiving “other proposals from other interested parties” for trail grooming in Kananaskis Country.
However, Rosin said herself and Minister of Environment and Parks Jason Nixon are “110 per cent committed” at ensuring the Kananaskis trails continue to be maintained and groomed moving forward.
“What I can offer is the reassurance that I have impressed upon Minister Nixon’s office the utter importance of finding a way to maintain these trails for the 2020 season – for the betterment of peoples’ physical and mental health, as well as the sustainability of local ski rental businesses and our recreational tourism economy,” wrote Rosin in an email.
Earlier this year, the UCP government announced it would be cutting the $200,000 budget to groom Kananaskis trails in Peter Lougheed, Mount Shark and the Kananaskis Village Area.
The unexpected decision received backlash and shock from the cross-country skiing community.
In a March interview with the Outlook, Alberta Environment and Parks spokesperson Jess Sinclair said the province is $86 billion in debt and “tough choices need to be made."
She added at the time that the province was open to "exploring partnerships with Nordic ski clubs."
––This story will be updated as more information becomes available.