Recreational groups given power to maintain, create paths under new bill

Recreational user groups are gaining more authority to manage and maintain trails on public land under a new bill introduced in the Alberta Legislature Tuesday.

Bill 79, the Trails Act, aims to bring order to what has been a wild west of trails on public land outside provincial parks, where lack of supervision has led to unregulated use of off-road vehicles.

“Decades of industrial activity in Alberta have resulted in a network of recreational trails that were not planned or intended for continuous use,” a press release said. “These trails are often on sensitive soil, such as wetlands, and do not have bridges or other appropriate crossings of watercourses to protect critical aquatic habitats.”

If enacted, the law will seek to bring order to all public land Рand especially the 80 percent that are not a Public Land Use Zone (PLUZ). Alberta’s government said it believes maintained and well-appointed trails will draw users away from less-used areas.

Bill 79 gives the Minister for the Environment and Parks the power to designate paths on public areas, restrict access and prescribe specific uses such as hiking, snowmobiling and horseback riding or OHV.

The Minister may have management plans drawn up for new paths and appoint a third party chief to supervise them.

The bill also allows the province to establish agreements with recreational groups and municipalities to operate and maintain trails as well as build bridges, shelters and other structures.

“This will provide, we hope, an increase in designated trails that meet environmental standards throughout our landscape for a range of user groups,” said Environment and Park Secretary Jason Nixon.

NDP critic Marlin Schmidt said Bill 79 gives Nixon more power over trails, but he does not trust the minister will do the right thing.

“Albertans are clearly skeptical of this minister’s performance in managing our public spheres,” Schmidt said in a press release.

“He wanted to open our beautiful Rocky Mountains to coal mining, he charged nature with Kananaski’s Conservation Pass, and he tried to sell or close more than 170 Alberta parks.”

Measures in Bill 79 are estimated to cost $ 4.5 million a year. The government plans to provide funding to recreational groups to help manage trails.

Nixon said the government is looking at enrollment fees for OHVs going directly to conservation efforts.

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