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Clarifying Parks' stance

Editor: I wish to correct factual errors in the article from your April 14 edition entitled “Little support for Parks special events”.

Editor:

I wish to correct factual errors in the article from your April 14 edition entitled “Little support for Parks special events”.

The lead on the article says Canadians have raised concerns about some kinds of potential new activities or events in national parks, but that Ottawa chose to ignore them.

This is incorrect.

The truth is that all of the more than 1,000 comments Parks Canada received on the draft Banff National Park management plan in early 2010 – from across Canada as well as from multi-day consultation sessions for residents of the Banff-Calgary region – were carefully reviewed and fully considered. That public input contributed substantially to the final text of the plan approved in June 2010.

Far from ignoring these concerns, I and the Parks Canada team used them to produce a Banff National Park of Canada Management Plan that ensures that special events and potential new park activities will strongly align with the character of Banff National Park and the expectations of those who love this place – while also helping motivate others to discover this national treasure for their first time.

The article goes on to make an unqualified statement that Parks Canada, through a recreational activity assessment process, has approved ziplines at the national level.

This is also not correct.

Stand-alone ziplines are not permitted in any national park in Canada, including Banff.

The reason that Parks Canada evaluates potential new recreational activities is not because we are proposing to introduce them to national parks, as the article suggests, but because we take very seriously our duty to fully understand the potential and limitations of the kinds of things that Canadians may wish to do in national parks.

After thorough and careful study, including consultation with recreational, environmental and tourism groups as well as subject matter experts, Parks Canada last year determined that guided, interpreted tours that give visitors unique opportunities to experience canopy and alpine environments through things like canopy tours or cabled walkways (via ferrata) can be considered in national parks.

At the same time we decided that attractions like ziplines and downhill mountain biking that are based less on enabling visitors to experience the nature of place and more on providing thrills do not belong in national parks. Other potential new activities that, under some circumstances, could be considered in Canada’s national parks include traction kiting, hang-gliding and community gardens.

This careful process of policy development at the national level is just the first step in arriving at fully-considered decisions. We are currently evaluating the potential and limitations for each of the nationally-approved activities at the Banff National Park level, taking into account the direction already provided in the new management plan.

The fact that Parks Canada carefully and thoroughly evaluates potential new activities in a proactive manner does not translate into “paving the way” for them, as the article asserts. It simply means being diligent and responsible about decision making.

Perhaps the most serious inaccuracy in last week’s article, however, was the statement that “high-ranking Parks Canada officials” chose to ignore my “advice.” The out-of-context email that formed the basis of that article was part of an ongoing, collegial and principled discussion of policy alternatives among executives of the Parks Canada Agency.

It is our responsibility fully to consider not just what we hear from those who already visit national parks, and are consequently motivated to participate in public consultation, but also what social science and opinion polls can tell us about the interests and motivations of the many Canadians who do not yet visit national parks and, in too many cases, are not even aware of them.

By the same token, we take into account strategic considerations, other government policy initiatives, the legitimate interests of stakeholders and neighbouring agencies, and fiscal realities before arriving at decisions about the future of Canada’s national parks.

That’s our responsibility. We take it very seriously.

My 2009 email was part of a multi-faceted, collegial discussion among peers and not, as implied, mere advice that was ignored. To suggest otherwise is offensive and devalues both the position of Field Unit Superintendent in the Parks Canada Agency and the professionalism and commitment of colleagues whom I deeply respect for their ongoing dedication to Canada’s national parks.

I will be retiring from a 34-year career with Parks Canada this June, during the hundredth anniversary of the world’s first public service organization for the protection and presentation of heritage places. This organization is one of which I am deeply proud.

I consider it an honour and a privilege to have spent a career in an organization that takes seriously its mandated responsibilities to connect all Canadians to their natural and cultural heritage through truly memorable experiences in protected national parks, national historic sites, and national marine conservation areas.

It is for this reason that I felt it essential to correct the inaccuracies in the article that, collectively, misrepresent both Parks Canada’s decisions and the principled and respectful manner in which they are arrived at by those of us who are granted the privilege to serve.

Kevin Van Tighem, Parks Canada Agency,

Superintendent, Banff Field Unit

EDITOR’S NOTE:

The Outlook stands by its story in its entirety.

Kevin Van Tighem’s internal December 2009 letter obtained through Access To Information clearly stated Canadians aren’t pushing for new recreational activities or special events. That letter speaks for itself.

Then, in September 2010, the federal agency announced a series of new recreational activities that could soon become part of the menu offered in national parks. While stand-alone zip lines aren’t on the table, Parks Canada’s own press release says guided interpretive tours – including zip lines, canopy walks, via ferrata and elements of aerial parks – can be considered at the individual park level.