Parks Canada is mandated by law to have a management plan in place for all of its national parks and Banff is about to get a brand new one – something worth getting involved in as an entire Bow Valley community.
The document sets out a planning period of 10 years and as we all know a lot can change in a year, let alone a decade.
Since 2010, Banff as a townsite has for all intents and purposes reached its population cap of 8,000 people.
Visitor numbers have continued to steadily increase over the past 10 years challenging the places we treasure and cherish as Canadians – where the prospect of a selfie is more valuable than spending time in nature.
Crowds, traffic, congestion – these are urban issues that are now affecting Banff National Park and it’s time Parks steps up and acknowledges it has a role to play to help resolve these issues in the new plan.
While we may poke fun at the engagement process with the cartoon, it is absolutely essential for valley residents to have their voices heard because the next management plan will determine the future for the place we call home for the next 10 years.
Parks Canada bureaucrats in Ottawa might only see a service centre for visitors on a busy highway, and a clearly defined border where the national park begins and ends, but this entire valley is a community. It is a place people live, work and play and perhaps it is time for the management plan to treat it as such.
Take the 8,000 population cap established for the Banff townsite in the 1990s. The cap was set at that number based on a variety of assumptions put into a modelling process – how many people need to live here to operate a service centre for visitors to the national park?
We would never argue there should be unlimited development or population growth in Banff, because there needs to be a limit. But do we have the correct number based on the right assumptions, or has the reality of how this valley has developed over the past 30 years changed the parameters?
Banff cannot grow any bigger. But what on earth does Parks plan to do about it over the next 10 years as more people are needed to fill jobs and provide the services to visitors from the businesses that currently exist?
Then there is the fact that a small town the size of Banff handles the traffic volumes of a large urban centre. Parks Canada has provided a significant amount of funding for public transit, but has zero interest in providing land for intercept parking options to the municipality.
The only viable option at this point seems to be the parking lot at the Banff Train Station proposed by Liricon, however that could still be several years away and won’t solve all of Banff’s traffic problems.
With an opporunity to shape the next 10 years of planning in Banff National Park we encourage Parks Canada as well as the public to dream big and think outside the box to find solutions that will help Banff remain one the best communities in the country to live in.
We recognized that balancing the competing interests of the busiest national park in the country with a plan that respects the park’s ecological integrity is no easy task, but nonetheless it’s worth the effort because at the end of the day management of the national park affects more than just the park itself – it affects all of us who call this place home.
Make sure your voice counts and engage online through the survey available now until the end of April, or at next week’s planning forum (Feb. 19-20) at the Banff Park Lodge beginning at 9 a.m.