There is possibly no more confusing a space to us in Kananaskis than Don Getty Wildland Provincial Park (“DGWPP”). It’s not one space, it’s SIXTEEN separate parcels. It’s also not just in Kananaskis. Three of the parcels are north of K-Country, and five are farther south.
We’re not sure who’s idea it was to create – under one banner of a single Wildland Provincial Park – 16 non-contiguous spaces, totalling 628 square kilometres, spreading more than 200 km from one end to the other. We can’t even consider how difficult it must be for the Parks folks to manage it, especially considering DGWPP has no specific management plan.
Where is it?
The individual parcels stretch from north of the Ghost River to well south of K-Country. Here’s where you’ll find the Order in Council (“OIC”) listing the 16 parcels including 2 maps. If you want to “follow along with the bouncing ball” for the list below, head to the ESRI-based Alberta Landscape Tool, select “Show Layers”, turn on Non-Administered Areas, then click off everything but Wildland Parks. There’s no reasonable single map of the whole park. The two in the OIC are OK, if not detailed. If you know what to look for, you can find them as green blobs on the map view of Google Maps. From north to south, the parcels are:
- North of the Ghost River, next to the Ghost River Wilderness Area, and north of Lake Minnewanka. The northernmost bit of this parcel abuts Banff Park;
- South of the Ghost River abutting Banff Park and the Ghost River Wilderness Area. Portions 1 & 2 would be contiguous but for the Ghost River corridor running between them;
- The upper reaches of the South Ghost River, abutting both Banff Park and Bow Valley Wildland Park;
- The upper reaches of Canyon Creek west of Powderface Trail abutting Elbow-Sheep Wildland Park, pictured at right;
- The Forgetmenot Ridge area southeast of the Little Elbow area, including the Big Elbow Campground;
- The east flanks of Mt. Cornwall, Glasgow, Outlaw & Banded Peak southwest of the Little Elbow area and abutting Elbow-Sheep Wildland Park;
- West of Junction Fire Lookout, abutting both Elbow Sheep and Bluerock Wildland parks.;
- A block of peaks in the Highwood range including Patterson’s Peak, Mt. Head & Holy Cross Mountain abutting Elbow Sheep Wildland Park;
- A REALLY long and thin strip on the eastern slopes of the Continental Divide south of the Highwood Pass. It starts at Odlum Ridge (just south of Peter Lougheed Park) where it borders Elbow Sheep Wildland Park. It runs south to Mt. Grass (which is almost due east of Claresholm). This strip is over 40 km long, from Township 13 in the south, north to Township 17. It varies from 5 km wide to spots as little as 200 m wide (on the slopes of Mt. Holcroft);
- The Cataract Creek valley (plus a little bit east) from Cataract Creek Campground north almost to Hwy 541 at the abandoned Sentinel Day Use Area. The view up the valley from the campground is seen to the right;
- Parcels 11 through 16 are five separate blobs south of K-Country. They are grouped together south of Hwy 532 and southeast of Plateau Mountain. They butt up against the Willow Creek Public Land Use Zone, and stretch almost to Bob Creek Wildland Park.
How it was created
DGWPP came to be in 2001 under OIC 306/2001. In typical government complexity, it takes 39 separate paragraphs (and 2 separate maps) to describe the 16 subdivisions. Just one example of these is Paragraph 3 that describes just one portion of Parcels 11-16:
All those parcels or tracts of land, situate, lying and being in the partially surveyed fourteenth (14) township, in the third (3) range, west of the fifth (5) meridian, in the Province of Alberta, Canada, and being composed of:
All those portions of the south half and north west quarter of section four (4), section five (5), the north half and south west quarter of section six (6), sections seven (7) and eight (8), the south west quarter of section seventeen (17), section eighteen (18), the south half and north west quarter of section nineteen (19) and the south west quarter of section thirty (30) of the said township, as shown outlined upon the said map or plan No. P0396 Gen.
Some, like Parcels 11-16, seem to have been obviously designed as “all lands above a certain elevation.” Others simply seem to fill in obvious gaps in other Provincial Parks that had been created by then. None of that is explained in the Order in Council (or anywhere else that we could find).
Why it was created
DGWPP was created at the same time as Sheep River Provincial Park, and Caribou Mountains, Peace River and Bluerock Wildland Provincial Parks. The Press Release from then-Community Development Minister Gene Zwozdesky describe how the creation of these five protected areas concluded a 5-year “Special Places 2000: Alberta’s Natural Heritage” initiative, created in March 1992. It was subsequently implemented by then-Premier Ralph Klein. It was named after Don Getty, who was Premier from November 1985 until December 1992. Quoting Zwozdesky:
“Since the concept of protecting Special Places began during the Honourable Don Getty’s tenure as Alberta’s 11th Premier, it is appropriate to dedicate the final site in his honour. This dedication recognizes Mr. Getty’s many years of public service to our province, and reflects his deep appreciation for recreation, tourism, the great outdoors, and the importance of family.”
Since DGWPP and Bluerock were created at the same time, we don’t know why they didn’t just make Bluerock bigger to incorporate Parcel 7. Still, that would make DGWPP just 15 parts instead of 16, so not a big difference.
The creation of DGWPP and the other two K-Country protected spaces required changing Spray Lakes Sawmills timber quotas to Forest Management Agreements. More about how Spray Lakes was affected by these protections can be seen here.
What does DGWPP protect?
Among other things, Parcel 5 protects one of the deepest caves in Alberta, Forgetmenot Pot on the south end of Forgetmenot Ridge. More information on the Pot can be found on page 103 in the book Caves of the Canadian Rockies and Columbia Mountains. Forgetmenot Ridge, which is the ridge in the centre in the photo at right as seen from Forgetmenot Pond, is in Parcel 5. It also has periglacial features similar to Plateau Mountain.
Parcel 8 put into protection a spot where in the 1960’s, a road was pushed through to a gypsum mine high on the slopes of Patterson’s Peak. With the park designation, there can never be a mine. You can see a picture of that ridiculous road near the bottom of Bob Spirko’s post about climbing one of the nearby peaks here.
Parcel 9 protects a phenomenal series of lakes under the peaks of the Divide: Carnarvon, Lake of the Horns and Loomis. In the past few years, stories from backcountry users make it clear that these precious spaces are not being protected all that well, however. There has been significant human damage by random campers at Carnarvon, for instance, and there has even been grafitti.
Isolated park spaces
This biggest challenge with DGWPP (from both a use and protection standpoint) is that it’s generally in the middle of nowhere. The only place a road touches one of the parcels is for 1.5 km of Hwy 940 north of Cataract Creek Campground for Parcel 10 (though Parcels 4, 5, 6 & 11 have roads fairly close). The photo at right is from Cataract campground. The hill on the right foreground (the southern part of Hell’s Ridge) is in DGWPP, and 940 is just past the trees.
Other than that, DGWPP is generally way deep in the wilderness and hard to get to at the far end of long trails. Many people do recreate in Parcel 6. There, about 800 m of the Little Elbow trail crosses DGWPP at Nihahi creek, and 2.6 km of the Big Elbow Trail crosses Parcel 5. The Great Divide Trail crosses Parcel 9. We’ve personally only set foot in Parcels 4, 5 & 6.
Camping in DGWPP
As in all Wildland parks, hunting and random camping is allowed. In DGWPP, random camping is almost all you can do. The only official facilities of any kind in any of the 16 parcels is the Big Elbow campground. But note that Big Elbow is not actually in DGWPP; it’s its own Provincial Recreation Area. Because of this, you can’t camp for 1 km around it. About the only “popular” random camping spots are near the lakes in Parcel 9.
The rest of DGWPP is about as wilderness-y as you can get. We sometime wonder how well it is marked in the field. We doubt those blobs of Parcels 11-16 are marked at all. The north-most one is oval and only about 100 m by 200 m in size. We’re pretty sure that blob just covers the west side of the rocky slope circled in the photo at right (photo taken from Hailstone Butte fire lookout).
Trails in the K-Country Parcels
Most trails that run through the K-Country portions of DGWPP are not official (so are routes, not trails). All trails in DGWPP are only partially in the park; here’s a partial list:
- Parts of Little Elbow & Big Elbow official trails;
- The north start of the official Threepoint Mountain trail;
- A bit of the official Wildhorse trail;
- A short bit of Nihahi Creek;
- Upper Threepoint Creek;
- A bit of Sullivan Pass;
- The ends of the Head Creek, Loomis Lake, Bishop Creek, McPhail Creek, Carnarvon Lake & Baril Creek routes;
- Bits of the Great Divide Trail including over Fording River pass.
About 30 km of the east boundary of Parcel 9 abuts the Cataract Creek PLUZ which is there for snowmobiling. Snowmobiles are permitted on a few trails in that area including up by Fording Pass. Snowmobiles are also permitted on the Little Elbow-Big Elbow loop that crosses Parcels 5 & 6.
If you are willing to go deep into the backcountry, fend for yourself and like to make up your own routes explore, DGWPP is for you.
Camping: 1 official back-country summer (Big Elbow) is surrounded by DGWPP but not technically in it. Random camping permitted (but not within 1 km of Big Elbow, nor within 1 km of Forgetmenot Pot).
Fires: Permitted. Deadfall can be burned at a campsite, but standing dead cannot be taken down, nor can trees be cut.
Hiking: 3 official trails (Little Elbow, Big Elbow, Threepoint Mountain, Wildhorse), plus the Great Divide Trail.
Mountain biking & Horseback Riding: On Little Elbow, Big Elbow, Threepoint Mountain & Wildhorse trails officially, but often used to access many of the parcels, especially Parcel 9.
OHVs: Not permitted, except snowmobiles where signed.
Services: No day use areas.
Find out about other elements of K-Country here!