A few weeks ago the Alberta Government proceeded with an Order in Council to make both the Castle Provincial Park and the Castle Wildland Provincial Park official. For the history of this process, you must go all the way back to 1895 when part of the area was included in the Waterton Dominion Park, now known as Waterton Lakes National Park. In the early 1920’s, the area was removed from the Park and transferred to the Alberta Government to become a Provincial Game Reserve. In 1954, the status of a Game Reserve was lost and this was the start of mining, logging, and eventually oil and gas exploration. In 1977, the Eastern Slopes Policy created areas of Prime Protection promising long term protection. Through many years of constant advocacy from groups like the Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA), Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), the Castle Crown Wilderness Coalition and thousands of concerned citizens, we are now finally at a stage of protection that will persist in perpetuity.
The Castle area has been internationally recognized for its high biodiversity and identified as a landscape that is deserving of protection. The area being part of the eastern slopes provides one third of all freshwater into the Oldman River watershed and habitat key for species including threatened Grizzly Bear, Westslope Cutthroat Trout, Bull Trout, White Bark Pine, Limber Pine and Wolverine. The area is also valued by various user groups and used for cattle grazing, trapping, hunting, fishing, OHV use and hiking. Taking all of these perspectives into consideration has made for an interesting and fulsome planning process.
The Great Divide Trail Association (GDTA), through a contact at the Alberta Hiking Association, was invited to join the last part of the Government consultations. GDTA President, Dave Hockey, participated in the recreation working group, reviewed science reports, linear footprint models and reveled in the challenge and learning experience of working with other land managers. The largest benefit was the opportunity for the GDTA to express its organizational opinions and input as hikers and advocates for our long-distance hiking trail in the Canadian Rocky Mountains.
The draft Castle Management Plan has now been released by the Government of Alberta for all Albertans to read and respond with their comments on the survey. The GDTA encourages you all read the plan and weigh in to help shape the future management of the Castle area. Too often we sit back and do not express approval for a job done well by the government, but this time let’s work together, share our voices and support the Castle.