Parks Canada has rejected a concept plan to develop a 66-room heritage-themed hotel on Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park.
But in addition to dismissing the development proposal, Parks has given the OK to Maligne Tours Ltd. for 13 other concepts to expand what the company offers visitors at the lake.
They include tent cabins and a thatch-walled, wildlife-themed exploratory maze, both of which are causing concerns for environmental groups.
Danielle Pendlebury with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) said most of that organization’s concerns with the proposed development remain unchanged even with the hotel removed.
“We are very concerned, particularly with the tent cabins; tent cabins are still a major part of the resort,” she said. “In our opinion it is still overnight accommodation and this is going against Parks policy.
“Right in the park management plan it says that no new land can be released for outlying commercial accommodations in the park and so they will have to amend the park management plan to allow for these tent cabins to be built.”
Pendlebury said changing the management plan to allow additional commercial development outside the Jasper townsite sets a dangerous precedent for the national park. She also expressed concerns overnight use. at what is now a day-use area, will negatively affect wildlife in the area such as grizzly bears and caribou.
“The whole reason for the park management plan should be to create … guidelines for what the park should be, and to amend it to allow this proposal to go through is crossing the line and that is not the point of having a park management plan in the first place,” she said.
Jasper National Park Superintendent Greg Fenton said he does not feel the decision sets a precedent, nor does it open the door for additional commercial development outside the townsite.
“We look at the merits of each individual proposal on their own merit and in the context of legislative and policy framework, including the direction in the management plan and the National Parks Act and from all aspects where there’s both environmental impact and potential to connect Canadians to their protected areas and enhancing experiences,” Fenton said.
“Then, depending on the specifics, we will make decisions of yes or no. I don’t see this as precedent setting in that regard.”
Fenton said because the lands being proposed for the tent cabins are not on Maligne Tours’ existing lease and licence, to consider the proposal further would require amendment to “one small component statement within the management plan.”
“There is already commercial development there and it is a day lodge and we felt based on the information we have so far and our review and the public feedback, there is enough scope for further consideration of this particular element of their proposal,” he said.
As for the decision on Maligne Tours’ concept proposal for redevelopment, he said it is still at a very early stage in the process and if the company chooses to come back with a detailed design proposal, Canadians can expect more public consultation.
“A detailed design level project proposal and also complete a detailed environmental impact assessment, just like any other proponent project that has physical works (would be required),” Fenton said. “There would likely be another round of public review and comment targeted primarily at the detailed impact assessment or the environmental assessment and we would use that, as well as our review of both the project proposal and the detailed impact assessment, to make a determination as to whether whatever they advance would be approved to actually proceed to construction.”
As for the 66-room hotel, Fenton said based on Parks’ understanding of the ecosystem at the lake, including wildlife and vegetation, the potential environmental impact at that location did not justify proceeding.
Other features in the concept proposal include new specialty boat tours, a water taxi service to Spirit Island for fishing, a new Voyageur canoe excursion, earth-cacheing, themed exhibits, enhanced storytelling, updated and Maligne-themed retail and food and beverage experiences and the maze.
Pendlebury said the maze in particular has no place at Maligne Lake.
“The maze for us would be a lot more suitable for a theme park, not for a national park,” she said. “Just with all of those other elements that got approved, any polling shows Canadians go to national parks because of the pristine nature and the wildlife, not because of various commercial developments and not to go run around in a maze.”
It is part of a larger trend Pendlebury said is concerning with respect to Parks Canada and specifically Jasper National Park to move toward more commercial developments.
Maligne Lake is the largest lake in Jasper National Park (22-kilometres long) and the deepest (97 metres). An estimated 380,000 visitors make the trip up Maligne Road every year. The vast majority of these visitors – approximately 360,000 – visit the valley during the summer.