We have an op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate a last­ing legacy for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions, say Joe Lougheed and Jay Cross.

Calgary Herald - - OPINION - Joe Lougheed is a lawyer in Cal­gary and an ac­tive com­mu­nity vol­un­teer. Jay Cross is a rancher, pro­fes­sor and com­mu­nity vol­un­teer.

Forty years ago, Kananaskis Coun­try was cre­ated to pro­tect moun­tain ar­eas for peo­ple and wildlife to en­joy, build­ing on the rich his­tory of Banff Na­tional Park. Pro­tect­ing and en­joy­ing these wild ar­eas is wo­ven into the fab­ric of what makes us Al­ber­tans. We only need to look to the Al­berta flag to see what mat­ters. It shows snow-capped moun­tains and in­tact foothills, rec­og­niz­ing they are a birthright as well as a source of wa­ter and qual­ity of life for Al­ber­tans. It is also, there­fore, our re­spon­si­bil­ity.

Banff was cre­ated in the 1880s but was ini­tially very small. Our fore­fa­thers had the wis­dom to un­der­stand that Canada needed some­thing more sig­nif­i­cant, on the scale of Yel­low­stone Na­tional Park in the United States. Al­fred E. Cross was a rancher, brewer and one of the Big Four who cre­ated the Cal­gary Stam­pede. But he also left a legacy of con­ser­va­tion as he led a suc­cess­ful lobby to ex­pand Banff Na­tional Park in the 1890s, for­ever se­cur­ing Al­berta and Cal­gary as a defin­ing des­ti­na­tion in the minds of the world. A.E. Cross would have worked with Sen. James Lougheed at the time to achieve this re­sult.

In the early 1970s, the gov­ern­ment of Pre­mier Peter Lougheed, grand­son of Sen. Lougheed, rec­og­nized that Banff was un­der pres­sure and that con­serv­ing ad­di­tional pro­vin­cial lands could also pro­vide ad­di­tional recre­ational op­por­tu­ni­ties for Al­ber­tans in the moun­tains. With ex­ten­sive ad­vice and pub­lic in­put, Kananaskis Coun­try was born. To­day, it is widely used and much loved by Al­ber­tans. So much so that sub­se­quent lead­ers later ex­panded upon it — Pre­mier Ralph Klein sub­se­quently added El­bow-Sheep Wild­land Park and Spray Val­ley Pro­vin­cial Park.

Forty years af­ter the cre­ation of K-Coun­try, we face the same chal­lenges with global tourism in­creas­ing, mak­ing Banff Na­tional Park an even busier place. Al­berta’s pop­u­la­tion has also grown from one to four mil­lion peo­ple. As a re­sult, Kananaskis has be­come a busier place too.

For­tu­nately, we have the lux­ury of an op­por­tu­nity that par­al­lels the con­ser­va­tion vi­sions of the past. That is to con­sider an area known as the Bighorn Back­coun­try, an area be­tween Banff and Jasper Na­tional Parks that in­cludes David Thomp­son High­way and the North Saskatchewan River. Fol­low­ing the “Kananaskis Model,” ar­eas could be des­ig­nated for con­ser­va­tion and pro­tected habi­tat while oth­ers could be des­ig­nated as recre­ational, with planned and ap­pro­pri­ate pub­lic fa­cil­i­ties, venues and trails. In ad­di­tion to the en­vi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fits, the Bighorn could pro­vide much­needed tourism and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties to cen­tral Al­berta while pro­vid­ing an­other place for Al­ber­tans to ac­cess quiet recre­ation and en­joy moun­tain beauty and wildlife.

Bighorn has the op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate a new legacy just like those of Banff and Kananaskis Coun­try. Just as we needed Kananaskis Coun­try to en­sure that Al­ber­tans could have recre­ation in the face of the in­creas­ing de­mand of Banff Na­tional Park 40 years ago, to­day we need to seize the op­por­tu­nity of the Bighorn Back­coun­try.

In con­sid­er­ing the Bighorn op­por­tu­nity, how­ever, we urge the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment to con­sult widely. What ar­eas should re­ceive greater en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion? What ar­eas should be set aside for more recre­ational uses? What should those recre­ational uses be and what uses will pro­vide the most tourism and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment ben­e­fit to the re­gion? Kananaskis, for ex­am­ple, has pro­tected spa­ces, but also the McLean Creek off-high­way ve­hi­cle area, an RV camp­ground, lim­ited paved trails and Wil­liam Wat­son Lodge, where phys­i­cally chal­lenged Al­ber­tans can ac­cess na­ture and the moun­tains.

Ap­pro­pri­ate and mean­ing­ful con­sul­ta­tion on Bighorn can bal­ance recre­ational in­ter­ests, re­gional in­ter­ests and con­ser­va­tion in­ter­ests and leave a legacy for the fu­ture. Ranch­ers, farm­ers and more ur­ban Al­ber­tans have worked to­gether in the past to achieve this bal­ance and we can do it again. We owe it to fu­ture gen­er­a­tions to try.


Bighorn Back­coun­try could cre­ate a new legacy just like those of Banff and Kananaskis Coun­try, write Joe Lougheed and Jay Cross.


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