LETHBRIDGE - More than one thousand people, including entire familes with parents, grandparents and children, gathered at Galt Gardens in Lethbridge Saturday, for a spirited rally to protest the potential closures of Off Highway Vehicle (OHV) trails in the two Castle Parks.
Representatives from both Lethbridge's Rocky Mountain Trailblazers Club and the Crowsnest Pass Quad Squad, hunters, and others took turns recounting their days riding and exploring the Castle backcountry. Many came with signs that read "Educate and enforce, not eliminate" and "Keep our mountains open to ride."
Wildrose Leader Brian Jean was one of the featured guest speakers, and made an impassioned speech, challenging Premier Rachel Notley to travel to communities across the province to spend time with OHV groups and their members. (Clip HERE:
"I want Rachel Notley to listen to us right now, and go out and talk to the people of Alberta in their homes and in their communities and in their cities," he said. "Not just Downtown Edmonton under the Legislature dome, Let's get her out to Grande Cache, or to Hanna to see what she's doing to their lives."
He also called for the province to extend its deadline for feedback from people across the province from 60 days to 120 days.
When asked about concerns from ranchers and private land owners about the destruction of private property, and herds that are affected, Jean maintained that any issues on private land were just that, a private matter, but that they should be able to protect their property. He added, however, that most off- roaders are respectful of their environments, including private land, and that the Castle Parks areas should continue to be open to everyone, not just a select group of individuals.
At another news conference in Lethbridge at the Helen Schuler Nature Centre, scientists also gathered, to offer their research, which clearly showed massive erosion and degradation of rivers and trail systems.
Univeristy of Calgary biologist Lorne Fitch conceded that one group of riders, represented by the Quad Squad, has tried to initiate responsible care of the region. However, he says the issue is the hundreds of other quad users who operate outside of organized groups and are tearing up the environment.
University of Lethbridge biologist Dr. Andy Hurly noted that society has to ask itself how much damage is acceptable, .and at this point, research and science indicates that what is happening is unacceptable.
Many at the rally maintained that they were doing their best to help restore environments that have been damaged in the past. But they also believe their efforts and concerns are falling on deaf ears. RMTB and Quad Squad member Lisa Block says some members' emails to NDP MLA's have been ignored.
"Email copies are being deleted and we do have examples where read receipts were sent back, stating the email was deleted without being read," she said. "We ask anyone that sends in an email, if you get that response, to hang on to that, as it's valid proof that we are voicing our concerns and they are just not being heard."
More rallies, including one planned for the Legislature, are in the works.
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