CALGARY -- Visitors to a popular mountain area west of Calgary will have to buy a Kananaskis Conservation Pass starting June 1 at a cost of $15 per vehicle per day, or $90 per year.

Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon made the announcement on Tuesday.

Roughly 5.4 million people visited Kananaskis Country and the Bow Valley corridor in 2020, exceeding the four million average annual visits to Banff National Park and officials say already this year, more than two million vehicles have been counted on K-Country roads and highways.

Nixon says the increased activity has led to issues with inexperienced hikers and campers, garbage and litter, traffic congestion, parking issues and vandalism.

There were also 428 calls for search and rescue  in K-Country, which officials say was more than Banff, Jasper, Wateron Lakes, Yoho and Kootenay National Parks combined.

The province says all of these factors have added to increased operating costs for maintenance and cleanup.

There was some opposition to the plan, with Alberta’s NDP calling it a prime example of the UCP government making it harder for people to enjoy the outdoors.

"This is an insult to the legacy of Peter Lougheed," said Calgary-Buffalo MLA Joe Ceci.

Alberta’s Wilderness Association (AWA) also called the move a cash grab that will deter visitation.

“Do you want your parks to be funded by the user fee model or do you expect as a taxpayer, that my taxpayer dollars go towards offering good safe services in our provincial parks," said Dr. Ian Urquhart, conservation director with AWA.

But not everyone is against the idea.

Linda Brown has been visiting Barrier Lake along Highway 40 with her family for decades. She feels the fees are needed, as long as everyone is still able to access the park including low-income earners.

"The upkeep that is required to keep this place as pristine as it is, there’s a lot. So I don’t really have a problem with," she said.

Ian and Colleen Charter are retired and spend as much time in K-country annually as possible.

On a fixed income, they say a $90 fee is not that bad.

"We use K-Country a lot, camp hike, and day trips like this, I think we would easily pay for $90," said Ian.

One hundred per cent of money raised through the sale of passes will be reinvested by the province in the area, said Nixon, including reopening visitor information centres and grooming cross-country ski trails.

Upgrades are also planned for the Canmore Nordic Centre.

New user fees for recreation in provincial parks were recently introduced including a $30 fee for backcountry camping.

The province discontinued grooming cross-country ski trails in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park to allow a private contractor to take over.

Nixon said the passes are tied to vehicles rather than households, as is done for the national park pass program, as the K-Country pass is cheaper and one goal is to reduce traffic.

With files from CTV Calgary's Tyson Fedor