While there was an increase in enforcement and public education, irresponsible and unsafe behavior ran rampant in Ghost Watershed this summer, believes the Ghost Watershed Alliance Society (GWAS).
GWAS members have documented the environmental damage and risk to public health and safety resulting from a summer surge in random camping and target shooting in the watershed.
They say many random campers left volumes of toilet paper and fecal matter, abandoned garbage at sites, destroyed green trees, lit unsafe campfires, and camped too close to creeks.
Additionally, target shooters left behind large amounts of target and shell debris while shooting without an adequate backdrop or too close to other people. They also noted the illegal use of restricted weapons on public lands.
"Although more needs to be done, the Government of Alberta has reacted," states GWAS in a news release. "It is now time for all of us Albertans to step up and change the way we recreate to reduce our impact on the landscape."
GWAS executive director Marina Krainer says it's important to remember this is not only an environmentally-sensitive area, it's a source watershed for Cochrane as well as Calgary.
One of the cleanup events held this summer was done in partnership with the Alberta Backcountry Hunters and Anglers on July 11 near a site where GWAS completed stream bank restoration last year. Within three hours, volunteers collected and removed 860kg of trash plus a truck load of metal.
There has been at least one other cleanup, she says. Additionally, she was told Alberta Environment and Parks pull out 21,000 lbs of trash from dumpsters placed in the area for the May Long Weekend.
GWAS officials have met with Banff-Kananaskis MLA Miranda Rosin to discuss the need for further sanitary facilities, effective education and enforcement of existing rules, impacts to the regional water supply, and the lack of awareness of an evacuation plan for backcountry users in the event of a serious wildfire.
"She was very support of us to share that message with the government and see if we can find some solutions for it, " says Krainer. "She was also very interested in taking a tour of the area in the next little while. So, we're hopeful that we've opened some doors."
Alberta Environment and Parks were contacted for additional information last Thursday, but has not yet obliged with an interview.