Saturday, 21 January 2017

Expanded Castle parks boundaries, OHV & snowmobile ban announced

Good-bye to all that: Random vehicle camping, OHVs and snowmobiles to be banned from both Castle parks

The Alberta government revealed Jan. 20 expanded final boundaries of the Castle Provincial Park and its surrounding Castle Wildland Provincial Park. At the same time, it announced the immediate closure of unauthorized off-highway vehicle (OHV)  trails and the complete phase-out over 3-5 years of existing designated OHV trails as new motorized recreation areas are authorized outside of the parks boundaries.

Snowmobiles are included in the OHV ban.

Effectively immediately upon adoption of the management plan, all OHV use will be prohibited south of Highway 774 which runs from Beaver Mines to Castle Mountain Resort. This means no quads or snowmobiles in the critical drainage of the the south Fork of the Castle River where OHV users have habitually used the stream bed for water bogging.

"We congratulate and thank the government for legislating the Castle Parks with the Order in Council that was passed this week," said Gord Peterson, president of the Castle-Crown Wilderness Coalition.

"While this is an important step in the protection of the Castle, there is still work to be done to make sure the Management Plan safeguards the long-term health of the area’s watersheds, wildlife, and historical and cultural resources, and provides opportunities for quiet recreation and wilderness-based businesses. I strongly encourage everyone to provide their input to the Public Consultation process."

Many of the trails to be closed or converted to non-motorized use were recently rehabilitated to repair extensive flood damage. That work was ordered by the previous provincial government but carried on even after the current government announced its intention to protect the Castle River watershed. The management plan calls for conversion of OHV trails to non-motorized use, unless ecological factors indicate closure and rehabilitation.

Motorized camping will be confined to campgrounds or designated sites. Back country walk-in camping will be encouraged.

Vigorous engagement by friends of the Castle in the 60-day consultation is required to ensure the off-highway ban is not reversed by political blowback on the part of OHV users and industry interests. Now is a time for modest celebration, but not for quiet complacency.

Link to the draft Castle Parks Management Plan including maps

Link to online public consultation survey (please respond  before March 20)

The announcement was welcomed by the Alberta Wilderness Association:

"The Castle parks, with expanded Wildland Provincial Park boundaries, will provide important protection for headwaters and threatened species including westslope cutthroat trout and grizzly bears. Albertans will be happy to see that they have been listened to and that protection of our headwaters and species at risk is being taken seriously," said Joanna Skrajny, AWA Conservation Specialist.

"While we would have preferred to see all off highway motorized recreation banned from both parks immediately, we expect that OHVs will be phased out in an expedited manner that targets, minimizes and eliminates ongoing threats to westslope cutthroat trout and grizzly bears, allowing these populations to recover. The elimination of illegal trail use in the Castle will begin the important process of protecting vital landscapes," said Cliff Wallis, AWA Secretary Treasurer.

Media Reports:

CBC, January 20, 2016
Alberta expands Castle area parks, plans to phase out off-highway vehicles

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Happy Holidays from Castle-Crown Wilderness Coalition

2016 has been a busy year for all of us as advocates of the Castle-Crown Wildland area!

On September 4, 2015 the Government of Alberta announced their commitment to protect this ecological gem in the SW corner of Alberta. From that point on, we have been keenly watching to make sure that the Ministry of Environment and Parks gets this protection right!

On March 23, 2016, CCWC met with Minister Phillips to present our Castle Management Principles. Minister Phillips assured us that decisions made regarding the Castle will be science based and opportunities for stakeholder input on the Plan for Parks would be forthcoming.

On July 28, 2016 CCWC and representatives from Alberta Wilderness Association, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, and Yellowstone to Yukon met with Minister Miranda, the Minister of Culture and Tourism. As referenced in his business plan, he is working towards implementing a Castle Region Tourism strategy.  Our key message was that maximizing opportunities to support tourism and recreation in SW Alberta requires prioritizing conservation of the natural assets. This includes prohibiting off-highway vehicles in the Castle Provincial and Wildland Provincial Parks.

On August 21, 2016 Premier Notley took an afternoon to hike to the Carbondale lookout. Wendy Ryan led the hike. Her expertise was valuable in pointing out valleys, ranges and mountain peaks and detailing the damage made from motorized use and random camping.

Starting in September 2016 CCWC has been part of either the Land Uses or Ecology Working groups that were initiated to provide expert advice about the recreation and conservation issues in the area. This work is informing the draft management plan that is to be released in January 2017. The draft plan, and instructions on how to comment will be online at . We hope you read and provide comments as this document will be the true ‘litmus test’ of whether the Government of Alberta is using science-based  decisions to manage and protect!

Thank you for your commitment to our environment and the Castle area.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

September is shaping up to be a busy month for conservation. Below are some links to information released this past week.

News Release September 6, 2016 - Still Waiting for the Castle Parks
News Release September 7, 2016 - Castle Forest in Peril; Restoration Required

Global Forest Watch - Castle News Release 
                                  - Castle Bulletin

Also, please consider joining us for the Great Canadian Shoreline Clean Up at Beaver Mines Lake on Monday, September 12th.  You can find more information here.This will be the last of our summer reclamation events for 2016. Thank you to the Alberta Conservation Association and the Oldman Watershed Council for helping to host all of our summer events.

Thank you to all that have come out to volunteer your time in the Castle. Your time and hard work is very much appreciated.

Friday, 22 July 2016

West Castle Wetlands Ecological Reserve 9th Annual Weed Pull

Monday, July 25, 2016
Sponsored by: The Castle-Crown Wilderness Coalition and Alberta Environment and Parks.

Meet: 9:30 AM at Castle Mountain Resort Parking Lot

Bring: digging tool, drinking water, lunch, insect repellent and, cup, utensils and plate for BBQ!

If you are trained to use it, bring bear spray and holster.

Wear: sunscreen, a hat, and dress for the weather.

At 3:00 PM following the weed pull will be a BBQ, and presentation of prizes at the T-Bar Pub.

RSVP to: Wendy Ryan 403 627- 4106 or Heidi Eijgel 403 627-1152

Everyone welcome!!!

OHVs and the Castle Parks: Are They In or Out?

That’s the crucial conservation question left begging in a newly-released document on what Alberta Environment and Parks expects in a draft management plan for the Castle Parks. Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA) and the Castle-Crown Wilderness Coalition (CCWC) would like the Minister to answer the question definitively and commit unequivocally to the management plan’s vision: “Conservation of nature will be the primary, overriding objective of both parks.”

"On the one hand, the proposal contains a number of encouraging statements,” says Joanna Skrajny, AWA Conservation Specialist. “For example, conservation and headwaters protection are intended to be the top two management priorities; they animate the stress placed in the document on protecting critical westslope cutthroat trout habitat.” Environmental leadership and evidence based decision-making are admirably placed at the top of the list of principles intended to guide the plan. “But, these positive elements,” she adds, “are fundamentally irreconcilable with the document’s later suggestion that off-highway vehicles should be allowed in both parks. You cannot seriously prioritize conservation and headwaters protection if you allow motorized recreation in the Castle.”

The CCWC, a local, grassroots organization that has been fighting for protection of the Castle Wilderness for decades, joins AWA in this call. "Eighty-six percent of Albertans prioritize non-motorized recreation and the majority of the public believes that OHVs have no place in provincial parks. It pushes out other users and harms wildlife," adds Peter Lee of the CCWC. "Considering that Waterton and all of our mountain parks are bursting at the seams with visitors, it seems like a no-brainer that Albertans are searching for and would be grateful for more of the national park type experience."

The Castle Provincial Park and Wildland Provincial Park were announced on September 4, 2015 by the Government of Alberta. Sadly, despite public outcry and substantial consultation, the recommended management intentions outlined in the document released today – allowing OHVs, recreational hunting, and cattle grazing in the parks – have barely changed compared to what the department proposed more than 10 months ago.

“While this is disappointing and frustrating,” says Dr. Ian Urquhart, editor of AWA’s magazine Wildlands Advocate, “there is promise where this document says the Minister still may decide to modify the recommended management intentions to prohibit OHVs and hunting in the parks. It’s time for the Minister to decide once and for all whether OHVs are in or out of the Castle parks. Conservation and a truly modern view of Alberta parks demand that she rejects the recommendation to allow OHVs in the Castle.”

Link to Castle Parks Management Plan Annotated Draft Table of Contents

For more information:

Joanna Skrajny, Alberta Wilderness Association, 403-283-2025
Peter Lee, Castle-Crown Wilderness Coalition, 780-914-6241
Ian Urquhart, Alberta Wilderness Association, 780-937-4692

Link to PDF version of this news release

Friday, 3 June 2016

2016 Hike Schedule

South Fork, Castle River

2016 Castle Hikes and Stewardship Events

CCWC hikes are free; however there are costs to coordinate and produce the hiking program and donations are always appreciated. Let your friends know, and bring them along to introduce them to the area. Be prepared for mountain conditions, and to be flexible due to bear encounters, trail closures, or poor weather. Donations can be made at CanadaHelps.

For more information and to confirm the hike meeting time and place contact the hike leader directly prior to the weekend of the hike. Please leave your pets at home.

Some hikes require bikes for easy access at lower elevations. All hikers should be prepared to take full responsibility for their own health and safety. The full hiking schedule will be posted on the CCWC website and on Facebook. Due to snowpack some early hikes will be outside of the Castle. Please Note: It has become necessary to do the hikes as described in the brochure, and there will be no changes to a hike except in the case of bad weather or injury. The hike leader will pick someone to sweep the back of the group and no one is to hike ahead of the hike leader unless designated.

If you are interested or know of anyone who might be interested in becoming a hike leader, the Outdoor Council of Canada Hike Leader has a few spots left in their course being offered at a fee of $300 in Waterton this summer Jul 2-4 from 4pm on Saturday until 5pm on Monday .

Here is the link to our online registration.

New Hike

August 6 – Prairie Bluff/Corner Mountain
Leader – Reg Ernst

The main activity for me (Reg Ernst) is to collect data from whitebark and limber pine plots we established there in 2012, but we can also do the following depending on participants' interests.
The main activity for me (Reg Ernst) is to collect data from whitebark and limber pine plots we established there in 2012, but we can also do the following depending on participants' interests.
Examine a well site being reclaimed by Shell.
Discuss basic ways to differentiate between whitebark and limber pine.
Visit whitebark and limber pine sites to look for blister rust and other threats.
Identify rare plant species observed during the hike.
We will likely see Clark's Nutcrackers collecting whitebark pine seeds while we are there.
The panoramic vista from the Prairie Bluff peak is spectacular although somewhat marred by Shell's array of infrastructure in the area. We will see the good, the bad, and the ugly on this hike. The hike should be considered easy to moderate; elevation gain 500-700 m. (estimated).

We will meet at 9 AM on the Shell Road between Pincher Creek and Waterton. To get there take Highway 6 going south from Pincher Creek towards Waterton. About 27 km south of Pincher Creek you will see a paved road going west to the Shell Plant, (just after you pass the junction with #505). About 200m west of highway 6 is a parking area on the north side of the road; we will meet there. If you get to Twin Butte, you've gone too far south.

It's 2.5 to 3 hrs. from Calgary. You will need the usual: water, food, hiking poles and appropriate hiking gear.

Previously Announced Hikes

June 4 - Big Sage Hike
Leader - Wendy Ryan - 403-627-4106

A short but steep grassland hike up to a rock band on Whistler Mountain in the South Castle Valley. A stewardship and wildflower hike in the rare Big Sage plants in the only area they grow in the Castle. Several amazing wildflowers will be looked for on our journey.Elevation Gain: 152 - 667 metres
Time: 6 hours
Rating: Moderate

June 18 - Antelope Butte
Leader: Jay Allen - 403-628-3048
Find early spring flowers while ambling through a remnant of native montane grassland. Look for blue grouse, prairie falcons and other migrant songbirds and raptors. Enjoy a lunch
break on the ridge with stunning panoramic views of the Whaleback, the Livingstone Range, the Oldman, the Porcupine Hills and the Castle. Thanks to the Lynch-Staunton family for allowing access to this beautiful landmark.
Elevation gain: 200+ metres
Time: 6 hrs
Rating: easy/moderate

July 9 - North York Cirque and Plane Wreck
Leader: Jay Allen 403-628-3048

This will be a strenuous all day hike; 14km return. It will include some caves, mountain meadows, splendid waterfall and the wreckage of a DC3.
Elevation Gain: 800 vertical metres
Time: All Day
Rating: Strenuous

July 11 – Minimum Security Camp Weed Pull
Coordinator – Wendy Ryan 403-627-4106

New reclamation event, please join us; pull some weeds, have some fun and meet new people concerned about the Castle. For more information please contact Carolyn at the CCWC office. 403-627-5059

July 16 - Victoria Peak
Leader: Kevin Kelly - 403-627-5128

Check with hike leader about bringing your bike to start and end the hike saving on time and energy. Hike is in the Pincher Creek Valley of the Front Range canyons. Learn about stromatolites and volcanic rock. Experience the spectacular views of Castle Peak and the Great Divide. This hike is also a good opportunity for viewing Big Horn Sheep and maybe figuring out where the squeaking pikas are.
Elevation gain: 1060 metres
Time: 10 hrs
Rating: Strenuous

July 25 - 9th Annual West Castle Wetlands Ecological Reserve Weed Pull
Leader - Wendy Ryan - 403-627-4106
Bring a digging tool, drinking water, lunch and insect repellent. If you want to work both sides of the river, please bring water shoes. We are making a difference on the battle against the invasive species. Many hands make light work - come and join us to protect the ecological reserve and enjoy the company of other like-minded workers. Meet at the Castle Mountain Resort parking lot at 9:30 am.

July 30 - Window Mountain Lake
Leader: Jay Allen 403-628-3048

Half-day hike north of Crowsnest Mt. An easy 800-meter hike to a beautiful mountain lake surrounded on three sides by huge cliffs, then an optional 3km walk around it. The spectacular feature is the "window" -- a hole through one of the cliffs above the lake.
Elevation gain: 200 metres
Time: 3 hrs
Rating: Moderate

August 9 – Front Canyon Reclamation Hike and Weed Pull – Blind Canyon
Coordinator – Wendy Ryan 403-627-4106

New – In conjunction with the Nature Conservancy of Canada this will be the first weed pull at the old farm site in the canyon. Enjoy the beautiful scenery and learn about the history of the area. There will be a moderate hike of about 1 hour into the site. Packhorses will assist in removal of the weeds.

August 13 ­ South Fork Lakes
Leader: Rob Bronson - 403-650-0905 or Email:

Ford the West Castle River through knee-deep water. Bring water shoes to cross in. Hike up Barnaby Ridge on our improved switchback trail. Explore the three South Fork Lakes, enjoy stromatolites, larch covered slopes and vista views.
Elevation gain: 630 metres
Time: 7 hrs
Rating: Moderate

August 15 – Sartoris Road Weed Pull
Coordinator – Wendy Ryan 403-627-4106

New reclamation event, please join us; pull some weeds, have some fun and meet new people concerned about the Castle. For more information please contact Carolyn at the CCWC office. 403-627-5059

September 12 – 10th Annual Great Canadian Shoreline Clean-up
Contact Wendy Ryan 403-627-4106 or Carolyn Aspeslet 403-627-5059 for more details.

September 25 ­ Syncline Peak
Leader: Kevin Kelly 403-627-5128

A strenuous full-day scramble up Syncline Mountain, with a goal to reach the summit, weather permitting. A chance to explore a beautiful secluded valley that is off-limits to motorized use. Good habitat for bighorn sheep and mountain goats on the surrounding ridges. Enjoy the fall colours of the larch.
Rating: Strenuous (Difficult/Scramble)
Time/Length: 7 hours
Elevation gain: 303 - 820 metres

Check the CCWC website or Facebook page for updates and hikes added throughout the season.

Please confirm the hike meeting time and place with the hike leader prior to the weekend of the hike.

All hikers should be bear aware at all times. More information on Bear Smart can be found at:

Know your bears and how to use bear spray, as hikes travel through bear country.

The Castle-Crown Wilderness Coalition’s ability to offer the Summer Hiking Program is due to the generous donation of time from our volunteer hike leaders. If you are a strong wilderness-minded individual who is interested in becoming a hike leader, please contact our hike coordinator at 403-627-4106for training information. To become a member, make a donation, or for more information about the CCWC, please ask your hike leader, visit our website at, or contact us at: PO Box 2621 Pincher Creek, AB, T0K 1W0 Email: Phone: 403-627-5059

With special thanks to our funders:

The Fanwood Foundation, Alberta Conservation Association, Oldman Watershed Council, MD of Pincher Creek.

Our 2016 Hike Schedule is available for downloading as PDF document.