The Alberta government revealed Jan. 20 expanded final boundaries of the Castle Provincial Park and its surrounding Castle Wildland Provincial Park. At the same time, it announced the immediate closure of unauthorized off-highway vehicle (OHV)  trails and the complete phase-out over 3-5 years of existing designated OHV trails as new motorized recreation areas are authorized outside of the parks boundaries.

Snowmobiles are included in the OHV ban.

Effectively immediately upon adoption of the management plan, all OHV use will be prohibited south of Highway 774 which runs from Beaver Mines to Castle Mountain Resort. This means no quads or snowmobiles in the critical drainage of the the south Fork of the Castle River where OHV users have habitually used the stream bed for water bogging.

“We congratulate and thank the government for legislating the Castle Parks with the Order in Council that was passed this week,” said Gord Petersen, member of the Castle-Crown Wilderness Coalition board.

“While this is an important step in the protection of the Castle, there is still work to be done to make sure the Management Plan safeguards the long-term health of the area’s watersheds, wildlife, and historical and cultural resources, and provides opportunities for quiet recreation and wilderness-based businesses. I strongly encourage everyone to provide their input to the Public Consultation process.”

Many of the trails to be closed or converted to non-motorized use were recently rehabilitated to repair extensive flood damage. That work was ordered by the previous provincial government but carried on even after the current government announced its intention to protect the Castle River watershed. The management plan calls for conversion of OHV trails to non-motorized use, unless ecological factors indicate closure and rehabilitation.Motorized camping will be confined to campgrounds or designated sites. Back country walk-in camping will be encouraged.

Vigorous engagement by friends of the Castle in the 60-day consultation is required to ensure the off-highway ban is not reversed by political blowback on the part of OHV users and industry interests. Now is a time for modest celebration, but not for quiet complacency.

Link to the draft Castle Parks Management Plan including maps

Link to online public consultation survey (please respond  before March 20)

The announcement was welcomed by the Alberta Wilderness Association:

“The Castle parks, with expanded Wildland Provincial Park boundaries, will provide important protection for headwaters and threatened species including westslope cutthroat trout and grizzly bears. Albertans will be happy to see that they have been listened to and that protection of our headwaters and species at risk is being taken seriously,” said Joanna Skrajny, AWA Conservation Specialist.

“While we would have preferred to see all off highway motorized recreation banned from both parks immediately, we expect that OHVs will be phased out in an expedited manner that targets, minimizes and eliminates ongoing threats to westslope cutthroat trout and grizzly bears, allowing these populations to recover. The elimination of illegal trail use in the Castle will begin the important process of protecting vital landscapes,” said Cliff Wallis, AWA Secretary Treasurer.

Media Reports:

CBC, January 20, 2016
Alberta expands Castle area parks, plans to phase out off-highway vehicles