Population: 4481 (2016)
Cardston County, extending from the U.S. boundary to a point south of Lethbridge, embodies western lifestyle. Open ranges and fertile valleys, wandering cattle and swaying wheat fields are tucked against the rugged timberland at the edge of the Rocky Mountains.
The County is an interesting blend of unique demographics: the 1420 sq. km. Kainai Blackfoot reserve (First Nations) is home to 10,000 people; a socially and economically influential Mormon community has its origin in settlement in the late 1800’s; and there are several Hutterite colonies that trace directly to the 16th-century Reformation.
Economic mainstays are agriculture (50% of the labour force) and tourism. The County is determined to maintain ranching and farming as the foundation for cultural and economic life. Opportunities exist to nurture local processing and packaging of agricultural output. Guest ranches, campgrounds (including the resort-size Great Canadian Barn Dance near Hill Spring), and accessibility to nearby Waterton National Park comprise the County's tourism sector.
Wind energy is an emerging economic influence. The county was not positioned for the first wave of wind farm development in southwest Alberta in the early 2000s due to distance away from transmission lines. New opportunity will be available when the new high-voltage line (currently being planned by AltaLink) is built through Cardston County. The County is interested in further leveraging the wind resource by encouraging development of related service businesses, manufacturing and knowledge-based labour force.
Investment opportunity in the County includes farm operation succession, given an aging farm demographic. Land prices range from $1,200 per acre in the north of the Country to roughly $5,000 per acre near Waterton Lakes National Park. In many cases, newcomers can acquire cattle or grain operations for less than they would pay in the prime farming regions of Europe or the United States.
Rural landowners close to town are more amenable to subdivision and development than are the big agriculture operators. Minimum parcel size in Cardston County is three acres, ruling out dense housing projects or business parks; however, these types of development are encouraged in urban communities within the County.
- The Deseret Ranch was named for the vast U.S. desert lands proposed as a state based on Mormonism, and ultimately reduced in scale to the State of Utah. The namesake ranch continues to be owned and operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
- The Nature Conservancy of Canada has purchased conservation covenants to maintain as working ranchland much of the landscape outside Waterton Lakes National Park.