There’s a bit of a theme on our pages that delve into the elements that make up Kananaskis: exactly what you can (and can’t) do in K-Country.
For instance, if you have read our page about Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Park, you may have started to get a flavour of some of the complexities of the rules and regulations of the various bits that make up Kananaskis Country. We don’t pretend to be the “world’s leading experts” on K-Country, but we know and have access to people who are. We thank them for helping us help you understand.
For instance, we were in a conversation with a gentleman about enhancing snowshoe opportunities in K-Country. Their comment to us was along the lines of “I know a great place to go snowshoeing, but I’m not going to tell you where it is because Parks will shut it down”. While that’s possible, it’s really, really unlikely to happen.
Go anywhere, unless…
The way K-Country works is generally pretty simple: if you’re on two feet, you can go anywhere you want, unless you specifically cannot. Here’s the list of where you can’t go:
- Wildlife Corridors: Those spaces on either side of the Bow Valley are closed to human use except on specific designated trails;
- Areas closed under Ministerial Order: For instance, you can’t drive past the gate on Highway 40 in the winter (though you can walk there). Pigeon Mountain’s season wildlife closure space is like that. Almost all of these have specific closure windows;
- Anywhere it is signposted that you can’t: Under the regulations, signs are presumed to be legal notices of orders that may be issued by Officers under various acts and regulations. If a sign says “Don’t go”, you will lose any argument that suggests you can because of some other rule;
- Private and leased land: The Burns Property is private land. There are a number of active leases in K-Country, such as the Fortress Mountain Ski Area and Kamenka Rundle Rock Quarry. The land owners and leaseholders control the land they own and lease. Virtually every lease predates the parks that now surround them, so they are not part of the parks. Those leases are private property, and you need the leaseholders or landholders permission to be on the lease;
- Areas temporarily closed for public safety or wildlife conservation. Some examples: 1) If there’s big yellow tape saying “Area Closed”, someone (most likely a Conservation Officer) has probably found something dangerous you need to stay away from – like a cougar feeding on a carcass, or a washed out trail. 2) One issue with the new High Rockies Trail is that it crosses some avalanche slide paths around Mt. Buller (so does Highway 742). Since Kananaskis Mountain Rescue would prefer you do not die in an avalanche, that part of the HRT is signed and taped closed in the winter. 3) In the winter of 2013, someone accidentally skied over a hibernating bear in the Black Prince area and woke him up (bad for the bear). So that area was closed for the denning period.
These latter types of closures are temporary, though they can last months. What started as a “temporary closure” of the Valleyview Trail has now become an annual closure for the whole season. Just in case you’re tempted to ignore that one, understand why it’s closed: it’s where Parks dump roadkill carcasses. Every bear, cougar and wolf knows this, and they regularly visit there looking for snacks.
If the gentleman’s secret snowshoe place is in a Wildlife Corridor, then yep, he could get caught and fined, and his trail closed. So know where those spaces are and stay out of them.
But aside from those spaces, travelling on your own two feet, you can go anywhere you want in Kananaskis. No one will stop you snowshoeing, or hiking, or skiing.
The moment you stop being foot-propelled (get on a bike or horse or ATV, for instance), the rules really do change, and you most definitely can’t go anywhere where you want. But if you’re doing it on foot, Merry Christmas to you. You can’t build things like trails, but your aimless wandering is entirely your business. Our Parks and other lands are there in part for your enjoyment, so go enjoy.
Now, all of that having been said: as we note here, Park land is primarily there for environmental protection and preservation. Public land? Not so much.
If you relentlessly promote your aimless wandering in a Park, and it results in use by others that is detrimental to protection and preservation, don’t be surprised if next time you go, there’s a new sign saying “Not here”. Mt. Indefatigable is a great example of this. Pocaterra Cirque and Ridge is getting to this point; it was under a closure for the early summer of 2021. Don’t be the slightest bit surprised if Sarrail Ridge sees partial closures soon. These places (and others) are suffering badly from over-promotion on social media platforms resulting in overuse and improper use, and that has affected endangered plants and trees, as well as critical protected species such as grizzly bears. Steps will be taken by land managers in order to protect and preserve our Parks.
Public land, on the other hand, has no such overarching goal or protection rules. Strange as it may seem, most damage from overuse on Public land is not in the slightest bit illegal. Some is; damage to streams and stream banks, for instance, or harm or harassment of endangered or threatened species. Both are actually protected by regulations associated with other things. But unless you’re actively harming the Crown’s recoverable resources, all that mess (see: the Ghost), while shameful, is not illegal.
Ways to defend and protect Parks
One thing you can do to defend our Parks (and out Public land, too) is to watch where you step. Either stay on open, designated trails, or step carefully when you wander elsewhere. If you leave no trace you were there, and the people coming after you do likewise, there won’t be any environmental damage, thus no reason to close anything. We talk about the leave no trace aspects of your steps here.
Another thing you can do is understand why you’re sharing where you go with others on social media, and consider not doing that. These days, many people are trying to be “influencers”, profiting off our Parks. Many are documenting their adventures and creating website or channels to simply boast about that they see or do. Recently, we saw a video of a group documenting their hike, shared on social media. Unfortunately, they also documented their unintentional harming of endangered trees in the process. Rather than use their video to educate others about these trees, and how hikers are harming them, they showed they were treating our protected spaces without due care and understanding. And it’s possible they encouraged others to go on that particular hike, and damage the trees, too.
Why not share how many dog poop bags were on the side of the path? Can you see places where the path is being damaged by shortcutting, braiding, or erosion? Share that. Are there places where people carved their initials in the protected trees? Share that. Did you find evidence that the path you were on was used by a bear or a cougar? Share that.
Sharing these things on social media adds value by showing that, by all of us walking wherever we want, we’re having an impact on the landscape.
Find out more about land use management in K-Country here.