Outdoor enthusiasts are marching in Kananaskis Country this evening (May 9) in protest of logging planned for Moose Mountain and West Bragg Creek.

The event was organized by GROW Kananaskis, an advocacy group dedicated to protecting K-Country recreational trail systems.

Co-founder Jeff Woodgate explains how the group was formed.

"20 years ago, specific permission was granted to log in this area by the government in terms of a general principle, and as it gets closer and closer to the date, they start to formulate plans for specific areas. Starting something like four years ago we started to hear that they were interested in logging in this area, and last summer they specifically came out with tentative plans for logging in the area, over top of those trails. That's what precipitated us starting GROW Kananaskis."

According to the GROW Kananaskis website, West Fraser Timber Company holds logging rights across 475,000 hectares of land from Waterton to Sundre, with the 738 hectares in the West Bragg Creek and Moose Mountain networks accounting for just 0.15 of that.

They're calling for both West Fraser Timber Company and the provincial government to take a second look at these areas in their current context and ensure that clear-cutting does not move forward.

"GROW Kananaskis' position is that sustainable softwood harvesting along these slopes is not a bad thing, it's just that in this particular case, since permission was granted, the area has changed in value in as much as there is a concentrated level of recreation in that area now. The government has worked with trail societies to create sustainable, beautiful, and popular trail systems, and our feeling is that permission should be taken away from the logging company to log those trail systems. There's a huge area that they're entitled to log, so it doesn't make any sense to log what is a highly-utilized recreational area."

The group asking trail users and enthusiasts to take action in a few ways, including by signing a petition (which has garnered over 15,000 signatures) and attending the upcoming march.

They also encouraged people to voice their opinions at an open house event held by West Fraser Timber Company in Cochrane on May 8.

The development of these trails started, by Woodgate's reckoning, in the late 2000s. Since then, countless volunteers have worked to establish and maintain the trails in cooperation with the provincial government and making use of provincial grants and fundraising.

Parking lots and washroom facilities have been installed to accommodate the hundreds of daily visitors.

The petition on the GROW Kananaskis website states that $6.5 million and over 100,000 volunteer hours have gone into the creation and maintenance of the trail systems.

Woodgate says it's all amounted to creating some of Alberta's most well-used and well-loved trails.

"I think it is the most utilized area for recreation in the wilderness in Alberta, by Albertans. I think Banff and that area has more overall usage, but that's based on tourist involvement, whereas this is almost entirely local. This is where Calgary comes to play."

He also points to the conservation fee that was introduced in 2021 as a reason why the provincial government should have a vested interest in protecting the trails.

"That's a bit of insult to injury in as much as we have been asked to pay a fee and this is specifically an area that is not being conserved, when the government, who has a mandate to balance the usage of our public lands between recreation and industry and that balance is off in this instance. There are areas in our public lands where that balance should likely be tipped toward industry. In this particular case, this area, it's necessary to recognize that the highest value in this area, for Albertans, is recreation."

The march, says Woodgate, is intended to demonstrate just how many people are passionate about the protection of these areas.

"It's a GROW Kananaskis initiative in conjunction with a number of additional clubs and user groups. Essentially all it is intended to do is to raise awareness, be a show of solidarity, let people know that the conversations that they're having are with real people, not just online. It's intended to be a media spectacle as well, with a number of people expressing their desire to stop this from occurring, and just a lovely day out in the sun, hopefully."

Participants are meeting at the base of Moose Mountain Road at 6:30 p.m. and walking or biking two kilometres to a nearby parking area.

The event's Facebook page can be seen here.