Posted Apr 7, 2017
Dear Minister Phillips,
The Climbers Access Society of Alberta strongly supports the Castle Provincial Park and Castle Wildland Provincial Park Draft Management Plan. We believe the designation of the area as parks will conserve invaluable habitat and wildlife. We also heartily approve the Management Plans’ recognition of the need for recreation management, and the need for ongoing collaboration with recreational groups to implement and manage the plan. Both of these goals fall within our mandate representing the interests of mountaineers, ice, and rock climbers.
Ice climbers, rock climbers and mountaineers have a long standing history of activity in the Castle Park area dating back to the mid 1970’s. One of the more popular ice climbs, Blue Angel, is even included in the first popular North American ice climbing guide -- Yvon Chouinard’s “Climbing Ice”, published in 1978. It is also one of the few areas close enough for day trips for the vibrant and growing climbing communities in areas like Lethbridge and the Crowsnest Pass.
We do hope you will consider, and make part of the public record, two concerns we have with the Castle Provincial Park and Castle Wildland Provincial Park Draft Management Plan.
We are concerned about the identification of climbing and mountaineering as “extreme and emerging sports” in the second sentence of section 6.4. The vast majority who take part in these activities are well trained and responsible, severely limiting the risks. We believe consultation with any of the local emergency response groups would bear that out. These activities are also far from emerging. They are woven into the fabric of our provinces history and for decades climbers from all over the world have come here, contributing to the economy and the region’s development. The proliferation of climbing gyms in Alberta and the addition of climbing to the next summer Olympics also attest to how mainstream the activity has become.
We are also concerned with the proposed restrictions on OHV use for access to the area. The delineation of the boundary between Castle Provincial Park and the Provincial Wildland Park effectively restricts access to a historic and valued ice and rock climbing area in the Castle River Valley.
Historically climbers and mountaineers accessed the Blue Angel ice and rock climbing areas with motorized vehicles via a road in Castle River valley. The road was destroyed by a flood event, and subsequently climbers have used 4WD vehicles in the summer and snowmobiles in the winter to access the areas. We also understand the area has become popular with recreational OHV users, leading to concerns with environmental impact. We would be happy to be a part of the Province’s reinvestment in the road similar to the model in the Ghost Public Land Use Zone. (Specifically we are proposing, a road for licensed vehicles with an axle width of greater than 65 inches that allows snowmobile access to the staging areas in the winter.) We believe re-defining the road would limit the environmental impact and lead to a staging area that would provide access for many activities including climbing, skiing, and hiking.
In a recent meeting with planners, there was some suggestion that a point on the old Castle River valley road, just past the climbs of greatest concern to us would make a great multi-use staging area. We believe that is an ideal solution to balance environmental protection with ensuring Albertans can continue to appreciate our incredible landscape.
We hope our issues with the Castle Parks Management Plan will be considered and be reflected by changes in the final park management plan. We appreciate the openness of Alberta Environment and Parks and applaud the efforts to solicit feedback from park users and the recreational community. We look forward to continuing to work together as the plan evolves and beyond.
Chair, Climbers’ Access Society of Alberta