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Editorial: Protecting Parks not a government priority

To refer to nature as a money-losing "venture" and wanting to capitalize on it is as dangerous as wanting to profit off of education or health care.

Alberta is open for business – parks now included.

Earlier this week, the government of Alberta quietly released on its website its plans to shut down or partially close 20 campgrounds and potentially privatize 164 campgrounds and day-use area.

No announcement was made to the three million-plus visitors who use the campgrounds and day-use areas. And an unusual decision from the government considering the province wants to double tourism spending from $10 billion to $20 billion by 2030.

High-costs were cited as the reason for the closure with the government estimating $5 million in savings through the changes.

Government officials said it cost $86.1 million to run Alberta Parks service in 2018-19, with $33.4 million collected in revenue.

Banff-Kananskis MLA Miranda Rosin said the government owes it to the taxpayer to not just "flush their money down the toilet on ventures that will lose money."

But if you look at the Alberta Park's mandate, the goal is to inspire people to discover, value, protect and enjoy the natural world and the benefits it provides for current and future generations.

The first provincial parks were established in 1932 under the Provincial Parks and Protected Areas Act. In the last 88 years, the system has grown from small local recreational sites to a comprehensive parks and protected areas system which conserves landscapes, offers opportunities to experience and learn about nature, and provides a wide range of recreation and tourism experiences, according to the website.

To refer to nature as a money-losing "venture" and wanting to capitalize on it is as dangerous as wanting to profit off of education or health care – all services our government is meant to provide taxpayers not-for-profit.

Trail grooming was another outdoor activity that was hit in the recent cuts. The government also quietly released its intention to stop trail grooming three main areas in the Kananaskis region, including in Peter Lougheed, Mount Shark and the Kananaskis Village area.

Press Secretary Jess Sinclair said with the province being $86 billion in debt, tough choices need to be made. Those changes are expected to save taxpayers $200,000.

To put that number in perspective, the energy war room launched by Alberta UPC Premier Jason Kenney last year has an annual budget of $30 million.

A budget – if you took even half of the annual funds allocated to it – could fund the grooming of the Kananaskis region trails for the next 75 years.

Rosin pointed to the example of cross country skiing in Bragg Creek where the trails are groomed by local group, the Greater Bragg Creek Trails Association.

 “They’re all volunteers and they’re not government-run and that’s a perfect example of what civil society can do in our parks," Rosin told the Outlook this week.

But if the government is detaching itself from its responsibility to provide taxpayer systems and services, then what exactly is there to do?

The potential privatization of the beloved parks is something that has drawn criticism from conservationists raising the concern that once privatized, the decision is essentially irreversible, changing the camping landscape forever.

One only needs to look at the liquor stores, energy providers and insurance companies to draw a fair conclusion the statement is chillingly accurate.

But hey, the new provincial government has stuck to its promise – Alberta is open for business.