Sasquatch program protecting West County

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County will consider joining group

Mountain View County’s policies and priorities committee has been given an update on a multi-stakeholder awareness program that is protecting the West County recreational areas along the Eastern Slopes of the Rocky Mountains.

The update on the Sasquatch & Partners Initiative (SPI) came during the committee’s recent regularly scheduled meeting.

Clearwater County councillor Jim Duncan and Clearwater director of agricultural services and land care Matt Martinson made a presentation to the committee.

Started a few years ago by Clearwater County, industry and private partners, the program includes the installation of large signs along roadways across the West County.

The signs show a drawing of a Sasquatch and the words: “Welcome to Our Backyard – Please Enjoy It With Respect.” The signs cost about $1,000 apiece.

The program also includes brochures, public presentations, T-shirt sales, advertising on county vehicles, and a social media presence.

“The program recognizes the privileges of all visitors to the West Country, as well as the benefits visitors provide to the local economy,” the brochure reads. “Your presence in the headwaters of the North Saskatchewan and Red Deer River watersheds means that your action may affect water supplies which are important to a large part of Alberta’s population.

“Sensitive landscapes can be easily damaged by overuse, particularly in wet conditions. Please be aware of this and use appropriate judgment when camping and travelling.

“Enjoy the forests, foothills and mountains connected by the rivers, streams and lakes of the West Country, but please enjoy these beautiful landscapes with respect so that others may experience them tomorrow.”

Brazeau and Yellowhead counties have recently joined the initiative.

“We are trying to bring a positive message to people who are using the West Country for recreation to respect our backyard,” said Duncan. “We want to preserve our wild areas for everyone in the future. This is a positive way to do it, with the Sasquatch message.

“There is always going to be some need for enforcement and some need for engineering as well. It’s all part of the overall plan, and the Sasquatch program is part of that.”

Martinson added, “We are trying to establish an ethic. We know a lot of the people we are trying to get this message to are coming into these rural areas to recreate. We see value in having consistency along the Eastern Slopes. There’s value in partnership.”

Duncan and Martinson also gave an update on the related “Rig Steet: Clearwater Trails” pilot project.

Focused on the heavily used Rig Street area west of Sundre, the project is a joint effort from industry synergy groups, municipalities, Alberta Environment and private sector partners.

The initiative has seen the construction or revitalization of about 40 kilometres of trails, installation of three bridges and the building of two staging areas with accompanying signage.

“The project has been a demonstration to address industry and environmental concerns with random camping and quad use on vacant Crown land outside the PLUZ (public land use zones), some under oil and gas and forestry dispositions as well as grazing leases, private land and trapping activity in the mix,” he said.

Councillor and committee member Angela Aalbers called the Sasquatch & Partners initiative a worthwhile program that could have a place in Mountain View County.

“I think this is an awesome example of seeing a problem, realizing you can’t say no and then trying to work with it to mitigate it and make it as good as it can be,” said Aalbers. “I think you guys are doing an amazing job on this.”

Councillor and committee member Duncan Milne said the program is a good safety initiative for all visitors and users of the West County.

Reeve Bruce Beattie put forward a motion recommending that council instruct administration to work with Clearwater County to develop a memorandum of understanding regarding the Sasquatch program coming to MVC.

The motion passed unanimously.

In an interview following his appearance before the committee, Duncan said having MVC join the program would certainly be welcome.

“It would be great,” said Duncan. “They (MVC) are an entranceway to the West Country and to a lot of activity out there. It’s a message we would like to see go up and down the Eastern Slopes as a joint effort where everyone is saying the same message. It’s a message that works.” The Sasquatch program is a good new tool to complement existing enforcement efforts, he said.

Reeve Beattie said protecting the West Country from vandalism and misuse is in the county’s interest.

“They’ve (program organizers) have asked Mountain View County if we would be interested and I think certainly councillors that are here today are very supportive of continuing that work,” said Beattie.

“Anyone who lives west of Sundre knows the impact of recreational vehicles in the summertime, so how do we limit or minimize the impact that has on the area? The average person who goes out to the West Country wants to go out there and enjoy it. “We have lots of environmental programs within the county and I think this is an opportunity to augment that process in the west part of the county.”

The policies and priorities committee is made up of all county councillors. Councillors Ken Heck and Al Kemmere did not attend the Feb. 1 committee meeting.

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Dan Singleton

Dan Singleton is the editor of the Mountain View Gazette who joined the newspaper in 1994. He covers news, municipal politics and community events in Mountain View County. He is also a longtime columnist for other publications of Mountain View Publishing.