In early fall 2018, we surveyed our members about what our priorities should be in supporting recreational riding. What we heard is that involvement in land use planning issues, such as the current Bighorn Country Proposal, is overwhelmingly important to equestrians.
Backcountry and recreational riders greatly value the ability to enjoy visits to areas like the Bighorn. Protecting the natural state of this area is highly important to equestrians from all corners of the province, as is protecting access to these areas that have been used by generations of equestrians.
When the Bighorn Country Proposal was announced, along with public information and consultation plans, we not only alerted members, but also set out to fully understand what it would mean for equestrians.
Amidst all the social media hype and controversies, we wanted to focus on the facts. Here is what we have learned so far:
The current round of public consultations is building on work from May 2014 under the North Saskatchewan River Regional Plan (NSRRP), as well as earlier work, which expressed concern about the Bighorn Country and set the groundwork for the current proposal. It is not a new initiative per se, but is a further step in planning around this area.
This round of public information and consultation sessions is only the first regarding Bighorn Country with the focus solely on proposed legal designations and boundaries, such as for provincial recreation areas and new provincial parks. Details of almost any future change to use, rules, fees or similar items will be discussed in future consultations with various user groups, including AEF. As additional consultations take place, we at AEF will continue to represent and advocate for the best interests of equestrians.
Since being announced, we have also received some key questions and concerns from the membership, and have done our best to find the answers. This is what we have obtained thus far:
Will equestrians be able to ride off designated trails and continue to random camp in the proposed Bighorn Wildland Provincial Park? Despite what the Survey Website says, we have learned that yes, they will. Random camping will need to be more than 1 km away from designated campsites.
Will we still be able to ride with our dogs, especially those that we have carefully trained to stay with us and behave in all situations? No, not in the proposed Bighorn Wildland Provincial Park, unless they are leashed 100% of the time. This will also be the case in the three proposed Provincial Recreation Areas
Will Eagle Creek Campground in the proposed Ya Ha Tinda Provincial Park be upgraded similar to sites like Little Elbow Equestrian? Only if we, as a user group, request that. Currently, government is working with the volunteers that now manage that facility. Their view is that the existing system there works very well.
Will these proposed changes result in user fees and new costs for us to visit this area? In some cases, quite likely, especially in front country campgrounds and facilities in the proposed David Thompson and North Saskatchewan River Provincial Parks. However, in the more rustic locations with very basic facilities, user fees are unlikely to be needed.
On behalf of our members and the equestrian community, we are engaged in this and other land use consultations that affect equestrians, but we urge all Albertans to learn about the Bighorn Country Proposal and to participate in the current online survey at talkaep.alberta.ca. Survey closes on February 15, 2019.