Parks opens door for new activities

By: CATHY ELLIS

  |  Posted: Thursday, Jun 30, 2011 06:00 am

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Parks Canada will allow a host of new thrill-seeking commercial and recreational activities that have been traditionally banned in Banff National Park.

Via ferrata, aerial parks, traction kiting, hang gliding and paragliding can now be considered in Canada’s flagship national park under certain conditions, although zip lines and canopy tours are off the table.

The news has drawn fire from conservationists concerned about the dramatic shift away from traditional national park values, but praise from business operators.

Peter Sudermann, one of the partners at Banff Mount Norquay, said Parks Canada’s decision to consider via ferrata – cable-assisted hiking and climbing – is “great news”.

Norquay has made no secret of the fact it wants to have via ferrata on the cliffs above the ski hill as part of a summer use operation, but Sudermann said they still have to go through the ski area planning process.

If all goes according to his plan, Sudermann said he’s hoping via ferrata, along with a chairlift sightseeing operation and opening of the teahouse, can go ahead next summer.

“It’s not a done deal by any stretch, but this lets us know we can advance some of our plans as part of the site guidelines we’re working on,” he said.

“I’m optimistic that we will be operational next summer. I have no doubt if we proceed with it, it will be a really unique experience for park visitors,” he added.

“Our winter operation is basically December to the end of March, so summer use for us would be very welcome to have the extra economic activity.”

Conservationists are outraged, though.

Jim Pissot, executive director of WildCanada Conservation Alliance, said it’s perplexing that senior managers and leading businesses lack imagination by offering contrived activities that are found elsewhere and are “more distractions than attractions.

“Parks Canada continues to pervert the original idea of national parks and cater to local businesses whose values and goals increasingly do not align with the preservation of Canada’s first national park,” he said.

“Glacier and Yellowstone national parks both had record visitation last year, with no bells, no whistles and no crap. They are the same national parks today that they were when founded. Geysers, grizzly bears and mountain goats are enough to fill those parks to record capacity.”

The provisional guidelines for these new recreational and commercial activities are now out for public review. Deadline for public comment is Friday, July 8.

The provisional guidelines, which set the terms and conditions under which such activities can be considered, can be found at www.pc.gc.ca/eng/pn-np/ab/banff/plan/plan18.aspx

Cross-country mountain biking will continue to be allowed in the park, but Parks Canada won’t offer specific trails for downhill mountain biking.

The development or construction of technical trail features may be considered, as can bike parks, with ladder features, pump tracks and dirt jumps.

Via ferrata is also allowed under certain circumstances and in certain locations, such as zone three and four areas, which include areas in Banff and Lake Louise.

Aerial parks – where people travel along elevated walkways, wobbly bridges and ropes – will also be considered under existing leases, but not as a standalone attraction.

Structured launch and landing sites could now be built for non-motorized hang gliding and paragliding in certain places, and staging areas could be set up for commercial traction kiting operations.

Pam Veinotte, superintendent of Banff National Park, said there are strict conditions under which each of the activities could be considered, including their locations, impacts to wildlife and public safety.

“We feel that these new recreational activities offer a unique experience and opportunity to connect people with nature and make them passionate about national parks,” she said.

“I want to stress that no matter what activity we’re looking at, consideration of natural and cultural resources will be paramount and must fit the character of the park,” she added.

“We feel that providing opportunities for people to participate in recreational activities is an important element of the national park experience.”


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