Experience the Castle Provincial Parks
Within the past year we have been lucky to see the creation of two new provincial parks in Alberta: Castle Provincial Park and Castle Wildland Provincial Park. These parks are located in southern Alberta, south of Hwy 3 and the Crowsnest Pass with one of the easier access points past the community of Beaver Mines. Important and fragile ecosystems exist in this region, and the new park status can help provide safe areas for wildlife, plant species, and people wishing to quietly enjoy another protected mountain landscape within our province.
My connection to the Castle has been odd, to be honest. I have known of the region for many years; the amazing scenery, the unique diversity of animal and plant species within the area, discussions within surrounding communities over protection status, and how much of a gem this part of Alberta happens to be. Yet with knowing about the Castle and being involved in conversations over its protection, I had never been there until somewhat recently. I wish that hadn’t been the case.
Backpacking, hiking and travelling through the Castle in the few times I have done so, keeps me wanting to come back. Yes, it is just a bunch of mountains. Yes, Kananaskis or Banff also provide amazing areas for outdoor activities. But this area seems different. For now, before tourism hits here too hard, the Castle is authentic. These new parks are rustic with no visitor or information centres yet, and less campsites (compared to Kananaskis). With that said, this is all beginning to change.
Since creating these parks in 2017, the Alberta Government has been hard at work. Picnic tables, expanding a current day use area and refurbishing 184 campsites have kept parks staff very busy this last year. The Castle will soon be an established area for that 5-day backpack trip you have been planning. Thinking about camping? Beaver Mines Lake, Castle Falls, Castle River Bridge and Lynx Creek Campgrounds along with 9 roadside camping areas offer many options to stay overnight for a small fee. Obviously, the Castle is a region in transition.
One of the more challenging issues with the creation of these parks relates to Off-Highway Vehicles (OHV’s). When the parks were created there was, and still is at time of writing, a plan to phase out these vehicles within 2 years. Afterwards, it should ideally be free of any motorized usage. But if you are heading out soon, you may be sharing trails with these folks. This region has an established following of people using OHV’s; if any transition has been a hard, it has been phasing out these vehicles in areas requiring environmental protection. Everyone deserves the ability to fully enjoy their chosen activity, however, protecting and preserving sensitive areas benefits all in the long term. Here’s hoping we can see established trails and areas for motorized recreation near the parks in the future, so all can enjoy their chosen activities.
The Castle Provincial Parks have a very important role in helping us better understand and implement conservation strategies. Connecting to Waterton Lakes National Park and the Flathead River Valley in British Columbia, this greater Castle Parks region creates a large wildlife corridor where animals can move about with little human disturbance; and undisturbed wilderness only helps our endangered species. Western Slope Cut-Throat Trout, Wolverines, Grizzly Bears, and over 200 rare plant and animal species within our province will all benefit from the Castle Parks.
Perhaps most importantly, after the impact of the recent fires to Waterton Lakes National Park, parts of Castle, Banff National Park and many areas of British Columbia and Montana, we have a responsibility to care for our fragile mountain landscapes. Much of this area relies on tourism and people partaking in outdoor activities for their economy. I encourage you to go and enjoy these parks – just make sure that you leave them better than you found them. We are blessed to have such breathtaking protected landscapes in our province, and the Castle region is a welcome addition.
By: Justin Howse