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Trails Act will include enhanced enforcement

Trails along the Eastern Slope west of Sundre and Cremona are included in the new Trails Act

MOUNTAIN VIEW COUNTY - The updating of legislation for recreational trails on public lands for the first time in 40 years will improve management and trail conservation, and will include increased enforcement, says Sundre-area MLA Jason Nixon.

Trails along the Eastern Slope west of Sundre and Cremona are included in the new Trails Act, which was tabled in the legislature recently.

In a press conference held Nov. 2, MLA Nixon, who is also minister of Environment and Parks, said the new legislation will impact 13,000 kilometres of designated trails, as well as many more kilometres of unmanaged trails.

The legislation will enable new trails to be designated for specific uses such as for hiking, riding and for off-highway vehicles, he said.

“It will also enable better enforcement tools to prevent environmental damage and protect and promote stewardship of public lands, and promote a bigger role for our partners in building and maintaining our important trail system.”

During the question and answer portion of the new conference, Nixon was asked specifically about plans for enforcement.

About two dozen new armed enforcement officers are completing training and will soon be deployed, as will 30 new unarmed field staff members, who will also be helping with enforcement, he said.

Stakeholder groups such as snowmobile and off-highway vehicle organizations will play a key role in helping enforcement, he said.

“No matter how many officers I hire and no matter how many people I put in the field, I’m never going to be able to cover the landscape that we are responsible for at all times,” he said.

“The most important way forward is to continue to empower and work closely with our partner organizations because they care about these landscapes as much as us and they are what will support those enforcement officers all across the landscape to make sure people are following the rules.”

During the Nov. 2 press conference, Chris Brookes, executive director of the Alberta Snowmobile Association said the association is pleased with the new act.

“We share the vision with Minister Nixon in recognizing the value and benefits of a provincial snowmobile trail network, but also a provincial recreational trail network that will bring increased tourism, recreation and economic opportunities to rural Alberta,” Brookes said.

Garrett Schmidt, president of the Off-Highway Vehicle Association, says the new legislation is a “very welcome step” and “we are very excited to see this move forward. It is the beginning of really focusing on our trails and having them for future generations.”

The Alberta Wilderness Association says the new legislation "opens the door to the privatization of recreational trails on public lands" and should be withdrawn.

"Through this bill's trail manager and trail agreement provisions, Minister Nixon will give himself the power to make any person, including corporations, responsible for managing all aspects of trails on public land," said Devon Earl, association conservation specialist. "This invites the privatization of public lands belonging to Albertans."

Marlin Schmidt is the NDP environment critic.

“This bill gives Jason Nixon, the minister of  Environment and Parks, more power over Alberta’s trails. Clearly Albertans are skeptical of this minister’s track record with managing our public lands. How can Albertans trust him to care for our 13,000 kilometres of designated and managed trails, and hundreds of kilometres of unmarked trails?” said Schmidt.

Dan Singleton

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