Wider Horizons

As the “May long” approaches, campers are again preparing to besiege the Castle. no motorized vehicles signBrett Jensen urges them to do so responsibly.

In the Castle River area, hard against the B.C. border, lies an area of Alberta rich in recreational possibilities. From the “May long” to winter’s first bite, hikers, campers, fishing fanatics, quad riders and others take Highway 507 from Pincher Creek, wend west and discover all manner of gravel road, trail and stream from which to engage in their outdoor pursuits.

Brett Jensen, Environmental Sciences instructor, knows most of the routes professionally after conducting a massive GPS survey for the provincial government several years ago. He’s also a regular visitor to the Castle and has seen the predation caused by those who use the area without concern for others who might follow.

Now, it’s your turn. Heavy use in the Castle area is taking a toll on the environment, says Jensen, but a bit of consideration for nature goes a long way.

“The biggest problem is created by riders (motorcycle and ATV) who go off-trail and tear up the landscape,” he says.

“Motorcyclists seem to be the worst, ripping up the sides of hills by hill climbing and causing erosion on higher slopes.”

Meltwater and heavy rains find those ruts ideal, sometimes cutting ruts a metre deep in a matter of days. The subsequent erosion winds up in streams, affecting fish habitat. Older quad (ATV) riders are less of a concern; most are middleaged or elderly riders who no longer have the strength to hike and enjoy putting along established trails.

All designated trails and landmarks are indicated on a map provided by the Sustainable Resources Development office in Blairmore at 11901 19th Ave. Jensen laminated his and uses it regularly when in the area.

Random camping can be an extraordinary experience, especially if existing rules are followed and enforced. A 14-day limit is in place, but seldom enforced. Some, says Jensen, stay all summer, exacerbating erosion, cutting ruts and denuding the landscape.

There is some good news, says Jensen. Several years ago, an annual Stewardship Day was established to help clean trash from the area. This netted automobile parts, bed springs and other refuse tending to detract from a natural area such as the Castle. The effort, coupled with changing attitudes, has forced organizers to find a new focus for the day as garbage is getting scarce.

“Now they’re more into trail maintenance and things like that,” says Jensen. “People seem to be more conscious of their impact on nature.”

Wider Horizons
Lethbridge College
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