I am writing in response to the recent letter to the editor suggesting that the process of Parks Canada’s support for the Glacier Discovery Walk is flawed. My comments regarding the Discovery Walk are based on my experience as a participant on the Icefields Parkway Planning Initiatives Committee that met several times for a year and a half; 2008-2009.
The group, chaired by Ron Hallman, executive director of the Mountain Parks at the time, had representation from all stakeholder groups including environmentalists, tourism businesses and advocacy groups. This experience ranks as one of the most productive experiences of the many committees struck by Parks Canada to involve stakeholder input in their work to manage the Parks for Canadians. The result of this work is available for anyone to see in the Icefields Parkway Strategic Concept document, which is part of the Management Plan for both Banff and Jasper National Parks: Banff, Annex 5, and Jasper, Annex 2.
The purpose of the work was to make improvements to the visitor experience along the 230 kilometres through the spectacular mountain-wilderness landscape in response to the fact that many visitors are overwhelmed and the experience is simply a long drive.
One of the recurring concepts discussed by the group was the notion of, “view from the edge”. This respects visitors who are not familiar with mountain wilderness and need to be encouraged to spend some time observing and learning. And this needs to be made accessible and inviting for them.
This concept is now part of the Annex document in the Management Plans; under Strategy One, Key Action (a). It is clear that improvements on the parkway need to be made and yet improvements cost money and Parks Canada is facing fiscal restraint due to the federal government’s deficit situation. Parks Canada needs to partner with businesses and organizations to continue to make improvements to the visitor experience for Canadians. This concept is not new and, in fact, the recent Banff National Park 125th anniversary celebrations is a perfect example of Parks Canada working with partners to provide meaningful visitor experiences for Canadians.
Therefore, the fact that Brewster is willing to make the investment to improve the visitor experience should be applauded and supported.
There is much work to be done to ensure that the Glacier Discovery Walk is a model for the world to see that exceptional visitor experiences can be created in the context of the national parks. And I am reminded that the role of Parks Canada, according to Parks Canada CEO, Alan Latourelle is, “to protect Canada’s national parks for Canadians not from Canadians”.