Sunday, September 8, 2013

Ripping up the Rockies

Throughout most of August, I was on vacation. Much of that time, we were camping in places where there was no connectivity to the Internet. Yes, places like that do still exist. When we did stay in cities and towns, we were so busy visiting dear friends and family that we had little time to go online. So, Dr Sock has been unplugged for a month, and hasn't posted here.

During our travels, we spent time in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, both on the eastern slopes and on the western side. The continental divide runs along the peaks of the Rockies near their eastern edge, close to where the mountains end and the prairies begin. The divide serves as the provincial boundary between British Columbia (BC) in the west, and Alberta in the east. We had never travelled through some of these areas before, especially on the eastern slopes, and were keen to explore new territory.

The Rockies on the BC side consist of extensive ranges of massive peaks, and wild rivers. The vegetation is lush and the mountains are heavily treed. Moisture moving inland from the Pacific Ocean tends to fall as rain or snow on the western slopes. There is little human habitation. By contrast, the eastern slopes are mostly in a rain shadow, and tend to be much drier. Also, the mountains, high and dramatic, suddenly fall away to prairie land, with few foothills, especially along the southern portions. As the Rocky Mountains are are a national treasure, there are many parks along the divide on both the BC side and the Alberta side, such as Banff National Park, Jasper National Park, Kootenay National Park, and Waterton Lakes National Park. There also provincial parks and and specially designed recreation areas and management areas.

Outside of the parklands, we found that there were very big differences in recreational land use on the eastern slopes as compared to the western side. In Alberta, it seems that there is little regulation of crown land. People like to go camping in the creek and river valleys of the eastern slopes. This camping consists of setting up large fifth wheel trailers, often in groups of five or ten families, wherever they can pull the trailers in close to a stream. They bring with them their All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs), and race around up and down hills, through creek beds, through swamps, and in the ditches alongside the roads. They tear up the ground with the ATVs, including fragile alpine vegetation, and destroy fish habitat. They race along hiking trails and cycling trails, ripping up the ground and destroying the trails. Then they come back to their camps and build huge bonfires. All of this seems to be lubricated with a great deal of alcohol.

We were shocked at the sheer number of these trailer enclaves and the ecological damage people inflicted with their ATVs. The roaring of the noisy ATVs was nonstop. Although the eastern slopes of the Rockies are beautiful, we did not find the area to be a pleasant place to be. There was nowhere accessible by road or trail that was not infested with ATVs. I was sad to see that this is the way that people are spending their time in the wilderness -- not with respect and awe, but destructively. These humans and their irresponsible actions seem almost like a cancerous growth spreading north and south along the eastern slopes. I was grateful for the parks, where ATV use is not allowed and the wilderness is being preserved.

While there is increasing use of ATVs in BC as well, it is minimal compared to what we witnessed on the Alberta side of the border. Same country, same Rocky Mountains, but different attitudes and provincial policies. Be careful BC, and take a long hard look at what is happening in Alberta before opening up more wilderness areas to ATVers. We are responsible for preserving our wilderness heritage for future generations, and to do so, we must avoid the mindless and wanton destruction of the type now taking place in Alberta.

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