Kananaskis Country is more than just Provincial Parks and various protected areas. It also includes Crown Land, known as Provincial Land or Public Land. In order to manage this land, it tends to be sorted into different zones called Public Land Use Zones or PLUZs, which enable enhanced management – though Public Land doesn’t have to be in a “zone”. Throughout the province, there is a substantial amount of public land. To best manage K-Country’s public land, most of it is sorted into various zones, and each of these zones has it’s own management framework.
PLUZs in K-Country
There are 4 PLUZs in K-Country, which you can see in the map to the right. Here you can read about the largest of these, the Kananaskis Country PLUZ (purple in the map); it’s in the northwest portion of the KC-PLUZ where the Friends has taken on primary management of designated trails in partnership with Public Lands. In this article, we’ll look at a PLUZ where the Friend also maintains the trails: the Sibbald Snow Vehicle PLUZ (“Sibbald SV-PLUZ”), which is the orange zone on the map.
The Sibbald SV-PLUZ was established in October 1979 under the Public Lands Act by the Forest Recreation Regulation. That regulation was replaced in 2011 by the Public Lands Administration Regulation (“PLAR”) with essentially no change in wording or rules as it pertains to any PLUZ in K-Country. The Sibbald SV-PLUZ was created along with the Cataract Creek, McLean and Kananaskis PLUZs to separate motorized and non-motorized recreational activity. Part D of the PLAR defines the Sibbald SV-PLUZ.
The Sibbald SV-PLUZ is the smallest PLUZ in K-Country
So why create the Sibbald SV-PLUZ?
The Sibbald SV-PLUZ, along with Cataract, were created to define a space that would allow snow vehicle use. Snow machines are permitted on designated trails in the Sibbald SV-PLUZ from December 1st through March 31st. The designated trails are shown in blue on the map to the right. Snow vehicles (defined under the PLAR as “a motor vehicle designed and equipped to be driven exclusively or chiefly on snow or ice or both”) are the only vehicles you can ride in the PLUZ; other OHVs are not permitted. There are a bunch of rules in the PLAR about operating snow vehicles in a PLUZ including:
- They can only be operated if there’s enough snow;
- Snow machines can only be used where it is signed that you can do so;
- They can only be used on trails designated for their use, and signed as such (or anywhere else with a specific permit);
- You can only ride at the lesser of the posted speed or 20 km/hr.
Note that, while the trails in the Sibbald SV-PLUZ are only open for snowmobiling until March 31st, snowmobiles may still ride on the Powderface Trail until April 30th as described here.
The snow pack is the Sibbald area is not great, generally. Accordingly, only three snowmobile trails are designated: The Blue Loop, the Blue ½ Loop, and the Red Trail. The only designated staging area is Dawson. None of the trails can be accessed by road from any other location.
How are the snowmobile trails maintained?
As we note on our page for the KC-PLUZ, these days, the Public Lands division of Alberta Environment and Parks has only a very small team working in the field as part of AEP’s ‘Recreation Management’ department. They handle recreation trails on all public land in all of southwestern Alberta. Accordingly, they develop partnerships (such as FKC) with AEP, which add resources to help stewards these areas. Whereas Cataract Creek SV-PLUZ has the Calgary Snowmobile Club as a trail maintenance partner, there is no current partner for the Sibbald snow machine trails. So, unlike the Cataract Creek, the Sibbald snow vehicle trails are not groomed. As a result, if the snowmobile trails need maintenance in the Sibbald SV-PLUZ, it’s usually done with the assistance of Alberta Park’s Bow Valley district trail crews. However, this assistance is limited to mostly just removing fallen trees.
Can non-snow machine users use the PLUZ?
If the PLUZ was created for snow machines, what about the rest of us? How does the PLUZ designation affect hikers, mountain bikers, logging or anything else for that matter?
Simply put, Part C of the PLAR (which defines the Sibbald SV-PLUZ) permits snow machines and restrict them to designated trails. Everything else in the PLAR treats the area like all other Public Land – and our article on the KC-PLUZ went deep into what that means, so we will only summarize it (for details, go back to that article):
- The Minister can grant dispositions for oil and gas, logging, mineral exploration, commercial trail riding, grazing, pipelines, surface materials and many other things;
- The Minister could sell the land;
- You can pretty much walk anywhere, ski anywhere, camp anywhere, and hang out to your heart’s content for up to 14 days in one spot — unless you can’t due to a closure or because it has been prohibited for any reason;
- You can’t camp within 1 km of a road or facility;
- Hunting and trapping are permitted (and trappers have special rights regarding motorized access);
- You can walk your dog off leash, though you dog must be under control at all times;
- You can use public land for any recreational purpose – including boating, fishing, hang gliding, ballooning, snorkeling, diving, snowshoeing, dogsledding, horseback riding, skating, tobogganing, or use any non-motorized conveyance (mountain bikes are just fine).
As with the other PLUZs in Kananaskis, there is active industrial activity and other dispositions. There are gas wells on the flanks of Moose Mountain, and the road to access them cuts through the Sibbald SV-PLUZ.
Logging has taken place for years along that well access road, and on the west side of the PLUZ, west of Powderface Trail. There is also logging in the northwest corner of the PLUZ, west of Powderface Trail and both south and north of Hwy 68. The Jumpingpound Forest Demonstration Loop explains all about logging in the area. In many cases, the official trails (including the snowmobile trails) follow old logging roads. On a tiny scale of logging, the Sibbald SV-PLUZ is also where you can go cut your own Christmas tree (with a permit).
Homestead Road is entirely in the PLUZ, and at its south end are several private gun clubs and shooting ranges. One range is managed by the Calgary-based Buffalo Target Shooters Association, another by the Rosebud Silhouette and Benchrest Club, another by the Swiss Rifle Club. These all sit in a single large commercial disposition area targeted for recreation.
What about trails for hikers & bikers?
As a hiker/biker/runner or other outdoor user, you’re more than welcome to use the snowmobile trails. In fact, the Red Trail shares a lot of its length with the Tom Snow hiking trail.
In the winter, it’s a bit different. You might think snowmobile packed trails could make nice cross-country ski or snowshoe tracks — but be abundantly clear that they are, first and foremost in the winter, trails for snow machines. Best to think of it as how you are permitted to walk on rural roads: stay out of the way of the cars, because on foot, you really don’t have any right of way. Snow machines travelling 20 km/hr can appear at any time on any designated trail. Please stay out of their way.
However, unlike Cataract, the Sibbald SV-PLUZ has many designated, official trails for non-motorized uses like hiking, biking or other activities. Note that all are designated as multi-use, and so are for hikers, bikers and equestrians. Starting in 2020, most of these trails are being maintained by the Friends of Kananaskis in our partnership with AEP. Much maintenance work is planned on them over the next few years. The official trails in the Sibbald SV-PLUZ are:
A long portion of the (very long) Tom Snow Trail;
- The first ~2.5 km of the Cox Hill Trail. This portion has been affected by recent logging;
- The extreme west end of the Jumpingpound Trail East & West loop. The loop is maintained in a partnership with Calgary Mountain Bike Alliance;
- The Wetland Interpretive Trail on the Demonstration Forest Loop;
- Ole Buck Loop;
- Sibbald Flat Interpretive;
- Sibbald Forestry Exhibit Trail;
- Deer Ridge;
- Pine Woods Loop;
- Moose Creek Loop.
Routes in the Sibbald SV-PLUZ
In addition to the above list, the following are just SOME of the unofficial Routes in the Sibbald SV-PLUZ:
- Seventy Buck Valley and Viewpoint;
- Several routes around Ole Buck Mountain;
- Access to the north ridge of Moose Mountain;
- Access up to the Hunchback Hills from the north.
Camping, Facilities & Day Use in the PLUZ
Dawson, Pine Grove and Sibbald Lake Campgrounds are surrounded by the Sibbald SV-PLUZ, but each is it’s own Provincial Recreation Area, so aren’t technically a part of the PLUZ. Dawson is open all year round for camping (though it only has 5 sites). Pine Grove is for groups only.
The only camping within the Sibbald SV-PLUZ itself is random camping, which is permitted and is free (once you have the Kananaskis Conservation Pass necessary to visit K-Country). Check the link for random camping rules.
Spruce Woods is the Sibbald SV-PLUZ’s sole Day Use Area; it’s on the Demonstration Forest Loop. The following are part of the Sibbald SV-PLUZ, but are separate Provincial Recreation Areas entirely within the Sibbald SV-PLUZ:
- Sibbald Meadows Pond;
- Sibbald Viewpoint;
- Sibbald Lake;
- Pine Grove.
Crane Meadow remains a designated PRA, but has long been abandoned and no trace of it remains.
Sibbald Snow Vehicle Public Land Use Zone:
- Camping: Inside the PLUZ, random camping only. Front-country campgrounds are available at Sibbald Lake, Dawson and Pine Grove Group Camp as noted above;
- Fires: Permitted. Deadfall can be burned at a random campsite, but standing dead cannot be taken down, nor can trees be cut;
- Hiking: 11 official hiking/biking trails, all maintained by the Friends, plus multiple kilometres of official, designated snowmobile trails;
- Mountain Biking & Horseback Riding: Permitted;
- OHVs: Not permitted, except snowmobiles where signed;
- Hunting: Permitted;
- Services: One day use area.