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Albertans fight to preserve parks, push back on government’s plan

Last Updated Oct 4, 2020 at 1:19 pm MDT

CALGARY (CITYNEWS) – For the last few months, Defend Alberta Parks signs have been slowly popping on lawns all over Calgary and Edmonton.

That’s the work of Katrine Konopnicki, who hands out the signs and raises awareness about a recent government decision to close and remove parks from the Alberta Parks system.

Konopnicki says Albertans everywhere – of all ages, wealth, and political stance – are now pushing back.

“This is not an issue that is limited to one demographic,” she said. “It’s everyone, and they all want the parks. Sometimes it’s the kid who ordered it, so they rush down and they get it and they plant it in their front yard.

“Everybody we talk to is very upset about this. It crosses partisan boundaries, no matter if you’re NDP or UCP, doesn’t matter who you are, you’re a user of Alberta Parks.”

Back in March, Premier Jason Kenney’s UCP government announced the plan to fully or partially close 20 provincial parks, meaning they would no longer be maintained for public use. Another 164 parks would be de-listed and managed through private partnerships.

Changes to parks system in southern Alberta (Credit: Defend Alberta Parks)

Konopnicki says people are voicing their concerns as she hands out lawn signs in her free time – every weekend. She says she wishes the government would have consulted the people of Alberta.

“Not a single town hall, not a single consultation with an Indigenous group,” said Konopnicki. “Nothing, no public consultation.”

In total, 175 parks are slated to lose protection, and Albertans could lose access. The decision is expected to save the government $5 million.

Katie Morrison is with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. She says when a park is managed privately, protections fall away.

“When you de-list a park, you open it up to a whole bunch of activities that were not allowed before,” she said. “Forestry, we see coal mining proposals, we see oil and gas activities.

Morrison says there are companies with partnerships who will be preserving the land, but she remains concerned about conservation efforts involving fish and wildlife in Alberta as a whole.

Recently, the UCP announced a $43 million investment for the existing parks. But as people flocked outdoors this summer, camp sites were a hot commodity.

“All of a sudden, COVID-19 happens and people want to get out,” said Konopnicki. “It’s now more important than ever to preserve the parks.”