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Popular Calgary conservation area to charge user fee in 2020

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Calgarians visiting one of the largest natural areas near the city will soon have to bring something other than their binoculars and hiking poles: Their wallets.

The Ann and Sandy Cross Conservation Area (ASCCA), a 2,400-acre property located southwest of Calgary operating as a non-profit charity, will require visitors to register and pay a parking fee starting in January 2020.

Currently, visitors are instructed to register and are encouraged, but not required, to provide a donation to explore its trails.

The fee will be $10 a vehicle per visit. For the true nature buffs, an annual pass is also available for $100 until Dec. 15 and $120 afterwards.

Some visitors to ASCCA not following the rules

The rolling hills of the Anne and Sandy Cross Conservation Area support numerous wildlife species. However, the organization believes that increasing human impacts are negatively affecting its wildlife species. SEAN FEAGAN / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

The move is in response to a growing number of visitors, including many that are not adhering to its rules, said Greg Shyba, ASCCA Chief Executive Officer.

“In the last couple years, we have been getting more people visiting the property and disrespecting the land,” said Shyba.

“They’re coming here and breaking the rules that we have set to protect the area.”

Prohibited and detrimental actions observed include people bringing their dogs, riding bikes, leaving garbage, walking off-trail and into restricted areas, and even illegal hunting and trapping, according to Shyba.

The ASCCA is concerned because this behaviour is opposed to the property donors’ intentions of protecting wildlife habitat and providing a place for conservation education programs, in perpetuity.

“We want to do the right thing and we want to honour Ann and Sandy’s wishes by making it a place to view wildlife – for the kids especially,” he said.

“It’s a big deal for the kids to come out here to see wildlife such as elk, moose, and deer.”

The new requirement will give the organization a better sense of who is accessing the park, Shyba said.

“By levying the parking fee and having a registration, we will better know how many people are on the land and be able to control access to a certain extent.”

Donations to the park dropping, while users going up

Breakdown of the increase in users, but decline in overall voluntary donations.

The fees will also help supplement donations, which have suffered (per visitor) in recent years despite more people visiting the area, according to Anna Aldridge, ASCCA communications and volunteer coordinator.

“The number of hikers has gone up significantly, but the donations per hiker have gone down,” said Aldridge.

“We’re not seeing the trends match each other.”

The parking fee will help the organization meet operational costs, which are increasing as more people use and impact the area, said Aldridge.

“As the area is being used more, we may have to consider repairing a trail that has had a lot of use, or service the outhouses more,” she said.

“It’s just more impact on the area.”

The new fee will help the organization respond to increasing pressure on the landscape as Calgary expands towards the natural area, says ASCCA director Brian Ward, ASCCA.

“[By implementing the fee] [the ASCCA] are trying to nip the problem in the bud, before it gets bad,” he said.

“We know it’s coming. The pressure is coming.

“It’s only going to get worse.”