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The Alberta government has quietly halted the closure of 17 provincial parks and recreation sites this year because of COVID-19.

The province had initially planned to fully or partially close 20 provincial parks and hand off another 164 to third-party managers, but officials quietly updated the COVID-19 response page on the Alberta Parks website.

"We will operate the 17 parks sites previously identified for closure this season because we want to give Albertans more opportunities to camp and connect with nature over the summer as we all recover from the COVID-19 pandemic," says a note on the website.

"This is a temporary measure for this camping season."

Some of the parks and recreation areas staying open this summer include: Twin Lakes, Sheep Creek, Chain Lakes and Dry Island Buffalo Jump.

The plan to close some sites and hand over others has raised concerns among many, with one online petition getting more than 52,000 signatures.

The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society said the move to keep some parks open this season is an important step in the right direction that shows the voices of Albertans are making a difference.

"We are relieved to see this update, but emphasize that these sites need to be available to Albertans not just this summer, but also in the future," the organization said in a statement.

It noted that the website doesn't address what is happening with the 164 sites that were to be handed off to third-party managers.

No one from Alberta Environment was immediately available for comment.

Environment Minister Jason Nixon has previously said the sites for which no manager can be found will lose park status and revert to general Crown land, which can be sold.

The Alberta government has quietly halted the closure of 17 provincial parks and recreation sites this year because of COVID-19.

Prior to the changes for this year, the plan would have seen the loss of about 16,000 hectares of parks and recreation area — small compared with the province's total park system, but one-third of the number of sites the province manages.

Budget documents suggest the move would have saved about $5 million.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 23, 2020