Field residents angered by Parks Canada decision
By: Justin Brisbane
| Posted: Thursday, May 10, 2012 06:00 am
A Parks Canada decision to stop grooming 36 kilometres of ski trails in Yoho National Park indefinitely is being described as a ‘slap in the face’ by ski groups and local residents.
As part of budget-cutting measures, Yoho National Park has ceased its ski grooming program and is asking the community to pick up the slack.
“We’re getting the short end of the stick on this one again,” said Marilyn Toulouse, founding member of the Kicking Horse Ski Club. “We’re a small town and they’re supposed to be supporting visitor experience. Instead, they pulled the rug out from under our feet.”
There are 60 km of groomed cross-country ski trails in the park, and Parks Canada was responsible for the majority of the trails, including the Natural Bridge trail, Emerald Lake loop, Field to Emerald Lake trail and Takkakaw Falls Road. Grooming in Lake Louise and Banff National Park will not be cut.
While Parks Canada argues only a small number of visitors come to Yoho in the winter, residents of Field see it differently, noting cross-country skiing rests at the heart of the community and is a top attraction during the long winter.
“We won’t be track setting in Yoho in the future. We are willing to discuss assistance in the future,” said Dave McDonough, Banff, Lake Louise, Yoho superintendent. “We’re not in a position to continue.”
According to Parks Canada, about 12 per cent of Yoho visitors purchase passes for the park between December and April, which is about 52,000 tourists. That doesn’t include season pass purchases and the number of actual trail users is currently unknown.
“We’re focusing our resources on peak periods of use. That’s during the summer months,” McDonough said.
Twenty years ago, Toulouse helped found the Kicking Horse Ski Club. In partnership with Yoho National Park, they began grooming several popular trails, offering an alternative to Lake Louise cross-country skiing. But with the ski club’s aging volunteer base, two years ago, Parks Canada took over all grooming operations and purchased new equipment to assist with the program in Yoho and Lake Louise. Since Parks groomed trails in Banff and Lake Louise, the volunteer-based club asked for Yoho to receive the same attention. Parks did an excellent job grooming trails, but Tolouse said news to halt the program came out of nowhere.
“They had plans this year to re-route one of the trails because of avalanche danger. It’s a slap in the face,” Toulouse said.
McDonough hopes an arrangement can be worked out with existing stakeholders or businesses to trackset the area and said he’s willing to explore partnerships. The Lake O’Hara Lodge grooms 12 km on the Lake O’Hara fire road once a week.
“We’re still committed to our core mandate. We’re dealing with fiscal realities and will work with stakeholders to have the least impact on visitors and staff. I’m confident we’ll achieve our mandate, but certainly in winter, we may have to do it in a different way,” McDonough said.
Craig Chapman, chair of the Field Community Council, said the move goes against the Yoho Parks Management Plan and is opposed by the community.
“We do not accept this decision,” Chapmen said. “We look at this as a knee-jerk reaction to budget constraints. Parks Canada for the last couple of years were the sole provider. We see parks cutting 16 hours a week of work for four months and it eliminates skiing in Yoho. Why should the 134 residents of Field volunteer to do this when Parks does it elsewhere?” Chapman asked.
McDonough would not say how many jobs will be affected by the cuts.
Chapman estimates Parks is only saving $8,000 with the move, which affects thousands of skiers who visit the trails every year. However, the fact the community was kept out of the decision is bothersome.
“There’s over 20 years of history where the community worked with Parks Canada. Suddenly, over a month, decisions were made unilaterally and it’s thrown out the door,” Chapman said.
While neither side knows how many skiers use the trails, Chapman said losing the attraction would have a negative effect on the Field community.
“Our community plan indicates Field is a winter destination. People are going to lose business and we’ll lose local businesses. It’s one step towards turning Field into a summer destination,” Chapman said.
However, McDonough said Yoho will continue to be a winter destination, however, with a different form.
“We’ll continue to promote Yoho year-round. We may not provide the active offer, but others are doing that,” McDonough said.
Field plans to meet with member of Parliament David Wilks later this month to discuss the cuts, and have begun a letter-writing campaign to lobby Environment Minister Peter Kent. Chapmen said residents refuse to accept this decision.
“This isn’t over,” Toulouse said.