Open house for Icefields bike trail set
Thursday, Mar 16, 2017 06:00 am
As Parks Canada gets public feedback on an $87 million paved bike trail along the Icefields Parkway from Jasper to the Columbia Icefield, the federal agency is also gearing for a plan to extend the trail to Lake Louise.
Parks Canada officials say, based on the outcome of public consultation on the Jasper portion of the trail, they may do project planning this year to extend the trail south to Lake Louise along Highway 93 North.
“In order to maximize savings and achieve efficiencies that may exist, consultations for the Icefields Trail South would build on consultations for the Icefields Trail North,” said Steve Young, a spokesman for Jasper National Park.
A public open house has been set for Friday (March 17) at Banff Park Lodge at 7 p.m. on Parks’ controversial proposal to build a 109-kilometre paved trail from Jasper to Columbia Icefield and Wilcox Campground.
The three-metre wide paved trail would follow the east side of the parkway for most of the route, but cross to the west side from Athabasca Falls to Mount Christie picnic area, and Tangle Hill.
The proposal would see the trail cross the highway at least five times, at level crossings with signs and markings. The crossings are planned to get people to attractions and accommodations on the opposite side of the road.
Most of the trail would go through an outdoor recreation zone that covers about 100 metres either side of the highway, but about seven kilometres would run through declared wilderness along an abandoned road near Beauty Flats to avoid wetlands.
Bow Valley Naturalists (BVN) has serious concerns with the proposal, saying while cycling is a carbon-friendly way for visitors to enjoy the park, a new trail built 20 to 30 metres away from the road in grizzly bear habitat is not the way to do it.
BVN says widening the shoulder would be better for cyclists than what’s existing, provide for better views, increase bear and rider safety, be significantly cheaper to build, and, from an ecological perspective, reduce the amount of critical valley bottom habitat lost.
“An easy solution would be to widen the shoulder,” said Reg Bunyan, a member of BVN’s board of directors and a retired resource conservation officer with Parks. “I bet $87 million could go all the way to Lake Louise.”
BVN believes there is potential for bears and human safety to be compromised, noting riders will be cycling through “bear central.”
They say the narrow valley and high elevation snow tends to concentrate bears in the valley bottom during the short summer season, with roadside bear sightings typically in the hundreds per year.
Bunyan said there’s also potential for riders to push a surprised bear into traffic on the highway, or worse, roadside bear jams could scare a bear into cyclists on the bike path.
“It’s not good for bears and not good for people. Somebody will get hurt and bears will be killed,” said Bunyan. “It’s a recipe for human-wildlife conflict.”
BVN also doesn’t buy into the argument that this is a family-friendly pathway.
It won’t be like the Legacy Trail between Banff and Canmore, they say, which runs within a fenced highway corridor, safely separated from wildlife, is close to amenities, with cellphone coverage, multiple start and stop points and to emergency services.
“That’s not the case at all along the Icefields Parkway,” said Bunyan.
Casey Peirce, AMPPE’s executive director, said it would be a safe and accessible way for people and families and other users to enjoy Jasper National Park without the use of a vehicle.
The trail would provide new ways to bring people to the parks, she said, noting it will help people fall in love with nature, thereby boosting conservation efforts because people will want to protect the places they love.
“It’s a win for the environment in terms of lowering the carbon footprint in the national parks,” Peirce said.
“It’s a win for cyclists and hikers and recreationists in general. It’s a new and exciting way to see such an iconic place in the world.”
Peirce believes a bike path away from the highway will be a much safer experience for cyclists.
“I’ve ridden on that road and most cyclists will agree it can be quite dangerous. It’s quite treacherous in terms of the speed some people travel on the road, and the fact the shoulders are non existent,” she said.
“The new pathway will be a joy to ride.”
Extending the new trail all the way to Lake Louise also has AMPPE’s backing.
“I would support the extension from Jasper all the way to Lake Louise because then it becomes a route with an end point,” she said.
Casey points out that cycling is one of the fastest growing sports in North America.
“The demand is definitely there to provide bike trails,” she said. “We’ve certainly seen that with the success of the Legacy Trail.”
Even though $87 million for the bike path between Jasper and the Columbia Icefield is already dedicated in the federal budget, Parks Canada’s Young said the project is not a done deal.
“We’re trying to gather input on, ‘is this is a good idea or not?’ ” he said. “No decision has been made. It’s not a for sure, for sure.”