Alberta’s Kananaskis Country introduces $90 annual fee to manage surge in park visits

Kananaskis Country Photo by Shutterstock/Tomas Nevesely

For anyone looking to enjoy the rugged landscape of Alberta’s Kananaskis Country, it will now come at a price.

The Alberta government announced that as of June 1, it would be introducing a $90 annual fee, or a $15 per day fee, for anyone using the provincial parks in Kananaskis Country. The fee will be charged per vehicle rather than per person, with exemptions for First Nations people and low-income earners.

The fee, referred to as a conservation pass, is being introduced in response to a surge of visitation that’s straining the Kananaskis authorities’ ability to manage congestion, illegal parking, litter, and overall public safety. Since 2014, the number of people visiting the area has increased by 70 per cent said Environment and Parks Minister, Jason Nixon, during a press conference, and the pandemic also became a contributing factor. “There were almost 5.4 million visits to K-country last year alone. That’s one million more visits than Banff National Park.”

In terms of incidents, the Kananaskis Public Safety Team responded to 428 calls for help in 2020. That’s more than the combined number of incidents reported in the national parks of Banff, Yoho, Kootenay, Jasper, and Waterton, and is a 51 per cent increase from last year.

Kananaskis, which rivals many of the surrounding national parks in terms of size, is home to approximately 4,000 square kilometres of public land that includes sections of the Rocky Mountains, hiking trails, Nordic ski trails, and golf courses, among other attractions. Over the last five years, the provincial government has spent $107 million to maintain Kananaskis’ recreation, conservation, and public safety services. “Quite simply, these pressures are not sustainable,” Nixon said in response to the region’s growing use.

One hundred per cent of the revenue from the conservation passes will be reinvested into Kananaskis to enhance conservation activities, services, and facilities. According to Nixon, the government expects that the pass will help ease vehicle congestion in the area, as the surge in visitation has resulted in illegal parking that’s damaged wildlife. He also said that it will contribute to hiring new conservation officers to strengthen public safety.

Other provincial parks in Alberta do not charge a day-use fee. Nixon said this is because the vast majority of Alberta’s 400 or so parks are also campgrounds, which charge people a fee to stay overnight. “Kananaskis is in a unique situation,” he said. “There may only be a handful of other parks that aren’t falling within that campground-type of category. But they don’t receive the same level of use, the same level of conservation, and the same level of services.”

In response to the price of the conservation pass, Nixon referred to it as “modest,” comparing it to the national parks’ annual pass system. In comparison, the national parks’ annual fee, which is $140 for a group of seven people in a vehicle, provides access to 80 different locations across the country. The Kananaskis fee, which is $50 less, will only provide access to the one region.

The introduction of the Kananaskis conservation pass will be accompanied by an $11.5 million investment from the provincial government for new and improved services, amenities, and infrastructure in the region.

“Action is needed now to make sure we can keep Kananaskis beautiful and safe now and into the future,” Nixon said.