Three campgrounds run by the Foothills Recreation Management Association (FRMA) within Yellowhead County are scheduled to close.
Those campgrounds include Little Sundance group campground, Brown Creek campground, and the Brazeau River campground.
West Fraser is a founding member of the FRMA, which currently maintains and manages 20 different campgrounds within the Hinton Forest Management Area, located near Hinton, Edson, Robb, and Cadomin.
West Fraser was asked by the provincial government whether it made sense to close any of the campgrounds they managed.
Little Sundance group campground closed this year, which is located near the Emerson Lakes.
It was an extremely low use group campground with roughly three group bookings per year, said Aaron Jones, management forester of West Fraser.
“We were charging $100 per group and we would be collecting in revenue like $300 to $400 per year and that really didn’t even cover the gas to go out there,” Jones said.
Jones added that it was a fairly popular camping spot before the government cracked down on driving quads in and out of provincial campgrounds, as it served as a staging area for ATV users. When quad use became more strict, roughly 20 years ago, the use of the campground dropped off quickly.
Due to low use, FRMA changed the campground into a group campground five years ago and maintained the area when someone booked it.
But due to low use and high maintenance costs, West Fraser suggested they close it.
Jones explained that when the government announced they were looking to close some low use campgrounds or enter into private agreements with someone to run them, West Fraser also suggested the closures of both the Brown Creek campground and the Brazeau River campground.
“It’s for the same reasons, they are very remote campgrounds,” Jones said.
It takes roughly two hours to drive to those campgrounds from Hinton on the forestry trunk road.
Brown Creek campground wasn’t used much, according to Jones, and there were some additional issues like a washed out road.
“We asked to close those next year so we could provide a bit of a warning to the people who were using it,” Jones said.
“There will still be infrastructure there, there will be picnic tables and the outhouse as well. It will be a user maintained campground, it won’t cost anything but it’s not going to be actively maintained.”
He mentioned that many campgrounds in British Columbia are turning into user-maintained sites, which include the bare amenities like a picnic table and fire pit.
If Alberta’s campgrounds are left with bare amenities, Jones believes people will continue to use them.
This means FRMA won’t be cleaning any of the sites or delivering free firewood.
All other FRMA maintained campgrounds will remain open in the Hinton and Edson areas.
“The government is extremely happy with the relationship we have with them and the way that we maintain those campgrounds at a really high standard and provide free firewood,” Jones said.
“They don’t want anything to happen to that partnership so the public can be assured that all those popular campgrounds we look after are not getting shut down.”
The provincial government announced in early 2020 that nine campgrounds in Alberta would be completely closing with another 11 partially closing and 164 to be handed off to third-party managers.
Those closures meant transferring the sites to the public lands system.
Seventeen of the closures were halted in the response to COVID-19, but will be transferred to the public lands system in the future and remain accessible to all Albertans.
“We will operate the 17 parks’ sites previously identified for closure this season because we want to give Albertans more opportunities to camp and connect with nature over the summer as we all recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a temporary measure for this camping season,” stated the Alberta Parks website.
While 121 parks have been handed over to third-party managers and the government continues to seek out partnerships, sites where no partnership is found will transfer from the parks system to the public lands system.
They will remain accessible to the public for responsible recreation and enjoyment.
The nearest closure to Hinton will be Sheep Creek Provincial Recreation Area north of Grande Cache and the partial closure of Smoky River South Provincial Recreation Area west of Grande Cache.
This means the partial closures of Bow Valley Provincial Park, Gooseberry Provincial Recreation Area, and Dinosaur Provincial Park are still going ahead this year.
“There are no permanent closures of parks or campgrounds in the Hinton area, current or planned,” said John Muir, director of communications for Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP).
There has been a lot of misinformation about parks circulating recently, including claims that park lands are being sold or closing to the public, Muir added.
Parks are not for sale, but the province is open to working with more partners in parks, like municipalities, Indigenous communities, and nonprofits.
The provincial government currently has agreements with groups across Alberta to manage 121 sites of recreation and day-use area facilities, campgrounds, concessions, and trail maintenance to support enjoyable visitor experiences.
“Sites will continue to be accessible to the public for responsible recreation and enjoyment. More information about partners will be announced in the future,” Muir said.
For more information on provincial parks, head to albertaparks.ca/albertaparksca/visit-our-parks/find-a-park/