EDMONTON -- Alberta has released a list of cuts it is making to the parks system, including 20 full or partial closures of "very small and under-utilized" rec areas across the province.

Albertans will be barred from 11 of those parks, while nine will be accessible but without any services.

Some of those affected are considered "comfort camping" locations, which means they offer extra amenities like permanent shelters and house furniture and features. 

"The NDP brought in comfort camping," Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon told media on Tuesday at the legislature. 

"This is the situation: My constituents and many Albertans across this province are struggling to be able to pay their mortgages, and the luxury of comfort camping is not something they want us to focus on."

Another 164 parks are to be handed over to third parties to manage.

The changes are throughout the province, from campsites at Dinosaur Provincial Park in the south to the complete closure of Kehiwin Provincial Park in the north.

The total amount of land involved is about 16,000 hectares.

"Show us the data," demanded NDP MLA and environment critic Marlin Schmidt. 

"I know that some of the parks on the list are Dinosaur Provincial Park comfort camping — that's overbooked. Dry Island Buffalo Jump is also a very busy campground in my experience. So show us the data that they're using to justify these being underutilized."

The government says 16,000 hectares is than one per cent of the province's parks system, but it isn't clear if that includes the national parks.

While the United Conservative government says the changes, which it calls optimizing Alberta's parks, will save $5 million, the Alberta Wilderness Association says they'll likely endanger the areas' recreational and ecological value. 

"The government statement that the 164 sites are 'mainly small and underutilized provincial recreation areas' underplays the conservation and the recreation values that these areas provide," wrote AWA conservation specialist Grace Wark. 

"In fact, many of these sites are well-loved and incredibly popular." 

She called it irresponsible to be removing the parks and natural areas from the network when Alberta has committed to protecting 17 per cent of provincial lands in a national agreement. 

A government spokeswoman has said the cuts will allow the province to focus on what it calls high-value areas.

Full closures:

  • Kehiwin Provincial Recreation Area
  • Running Lake Provincial Recreation Area
  • Stoney Lake Provincial Recreation Area
  • Sulphur Lake Provincial Recreation Area
  • Little Fish Lake Provincial Park
  • Crow Lake Provincial Park
  • Bleriot Ferry Provincial Recreation Area
  • Greene Valley Provincial Park
  • Twin Lakes Provincial Recreation Area
  • Sheep Creek Provincial Recreation Area

Partial closures:

  • Bow Valley Provincial Park - Barrier Lake Visitor Information Centre
  • Gooseberry Provincial Recreation Area – Elbow Valley Visitor Centre
  • Dinosaur Provincial Park – Comfort Camping
  • Gooseberry Provincial Park Lake
  • Engstrom Lake Provincial Recreation Area
  • Chain Lakes Provincial Recreation Area
  • Lawrence Lake Provincial Recreation Area
  • Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park – Tolman Bridge Campgrounds (East and West)
  • Notikewin Provincial Park
  • Smoky River South Provincial Recreation Area

The government also announced several fee increases, including $3 to the base camping rate at most campgrounds, and $10 to some comfort camping and group camping sites.

Camping reservations begin to open March 17.

With files from The Canadian Press