The great thing about enjoying the outdoors is it’s practically free — for most people.
For municipalities that foot the bill for infrastructure, however, ensuring visitors and residents safely enjoy themselves in nature can have quite the price tag.
Such was the discussion during the June 1 Crowsnest Pass council meeting, where an outdoor levy was first suggested by Coun. Glen Girhiny. Since most of the users of recreational infrastructure are visitors who did not pay municipal taxes, recouping some of the cost through a recreational levy was suggested.
Administration was directed to contact other mountain communities for feedback on what, if any, levies were charged and how enforcement and collection was accomplished. Administration presented their findings during the July 13 council meeting.
Elkford, Sparwood, Fernie, Banff and Canmore were each contacted. None of the communities charge a fee for any public trail system. For trail usage outside the community’s control, Elkford, Fernie and Sparwood have trail alliance groups that charge for trail usage.
Canmore has street-parking fees for varying locations, including Quarry Lake and downtown during the summer. Banff is piloting a downtown $3-per-hour fee for 2021.
Council decided to take no further action toward an outdoor recreation levy and accepted administration’s report as information.
The next discussion centred on the cost of backcountry rescues the municipality currently pays. As part of its review of municipal policies, administration wanted council’s input on if any changes were needed.
Currently, the 2006 policy has the municipality pursuing cost-recovery for non-residents requiring backcountry assistance. The issue has been fiercely debated in the past, with those in opposition saying no barriers should exist for someone needing help and that if an individual is worried about a large rescue bill they won’t call for assistance, making the situation worse.
Those in favour of cost-recovery, however, feel the municipality has a right to recover taxpayer dollars used in helping non-residents.
“It’s definitely a contentious topic,” said chief administrative officer Patrick Thomas.
While insurance claims can be made, the situation is complicated as hikers don’t usually have outdoor insurance; OHV users do, but the claim process is difficult.
Crowsnest Pass is working with the MDs of Ranchland and Willow Creek on a compensation model and a structure to co-ordinate responses. The Alberta government does not provide any funding for rescues on provincial land.
Last summer saw a significantly higher number of rescue calls due to a surge of tourists seeking outdoor recreation during the pandemic. With more people likely to visit this season, Coun. Lisa Sygutek said discussion on the policy was timely as more people would be coming unprepared for backcountry safety.
“I think this area is going to become the next K-country because nobody in K-country wants to hike in K-country because all you do is hike around people,” she added. “I think we’re ready for an explosion here and I think we really have to discuss this policy.”
Before choosing to continue or change the current policy, council asked administration to gather information regarding the number of rescues last year, the amount of tax dollars spent on rescue missions and if cost recovery was achieved.
The next council meeting will be held in council chambers Tuesday, Aug. 17, at 7 p.m.
Sean Oliver, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze