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Trail fees in Bighorn Country being discussed as area becomes overrun with campers

CALGARY (CityNews) – The Bighorn Country area has been overrun with campers, garbage, and a lack of social distancing. Now trail fees are being discussed at the provincial level.

The large piece of land near Sundre and Rocky Mountain House is becoming a popular go-to this summer as Albertans flock to nature, one of few reprieves from the city and the reality of COVID-19.

A June report from the Bighorn Backcountry Standing Committee said garbage is being left behind, social distancing isn’t happening, and large groups are camping in random areas.

The Alberta Hiking Association is now proposing camping fees, and it has provincial support.

“About 800 responses we had to our online survey that they would support a trail fee with the assumption it would be used to maintain the trails,” said Murray Fierheller, chair of the hiking association.

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“That trail fee will be dedicated to trail maintenance and enforcement and helping manage these areas.”

Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon oversees the area and said this situation is the norm for parks this year.

“The reality is exactly what we have taking place all across the province because of COVID.”

Areas like Kananaskis, Canmore, and Banff are also being used frequently this year.

Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw is even asking people to have a back-up plan if they arrive to a destination and it’s already busy.

Nixon said the trail fees implemented, which are part of legislation put forward in the United Conservative’s platform will also go towards volunteer fire and search and rescue departments in the area.

Murray hopes stringent protocols are thought about carefully however, as he said these issues are exclusive to the pandemic.

“These are new stresses, people trying to get out especially to take advantage of the weather.”

Last month, RCMP in Sundre said around 500 people camped out on Crown land one weekend near Garrington Bridge along the Red Deer River in central Alberta.

At least 11 complaints were issued including damaged property, stolen property, uttering threats, fireworks and one report of possession of a dangerous weapon.