Banff National Park’s surprise move to include a separate visitor management plan in its final draft of the 2020 management plan causes considerable concern for recreationalists, businesses, and other users in the mountain national parks.
Imposing restrictions on access will create exclusive experiences only for a small subset of visitors. The Association for Mountain Park Protection and Enjoyment (AMPPE) believes there is a better way that finds sustainable solutions to manage visitor experience while preserving these iconic landscapes.
AMPPE agrees we must protect parks for future generations, but urges Parks Canada to take a broad view and consider the unintended consequences in the current proposed approach. Parks Canada already limits visitors in select areas. For example, at Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park there’s a reservation system to assign day-use bus reservations. It would be interesting to know which people successfully obtained these coveted spots. Understanding basic demographic information would be important in deciding if or when to assign management strategies.
Banff has already successfully reduced traffic through an intercept parking lot and expanded its transit service. On Oct. 20, the Outlook reported the town had experienced a mode shift. This was the first summer private vehicle occupants accounted for fewer than 70 per cent of people crossings across the Bow River — a prime bottleneck area. This is evidence that current management strategies are starting to work.
This summer, the town also saw a corresponding increase in transit ridership, so much so that Roam transit has received approval for a budget increase that will see positions added and a jump in service hours.
Like many towns, Banff experimented with creating a pedestrian zone with its main street. Even with a major road closed to traffic, the town had nine days with travel times over 15 minutes versus 15 days in 2019.
Our mountain parks need to be inclusive. The National Park Service in the United States prepared a study linking its 2010 census data to park visitation. They found compared to the general public, national park visitors in the U.S. were more educated, reported higher income levels, and were overwhelmingly white. It would be an easy assumption to make that similar trends could exist.
By contrast, publicly available data from Parks Canada only includes a count of the number of cars through the park gates.
Using demographic data, such as the U.S. Parks Service collects, could be a good starting point for understanding more about our visitors. Even better would be to employ and expand the use of existing federal government tools and tactics to understand who is and who isn’t getting an opportunity to enjoy and engage with Canada's most beloved protected areas.
As the Canadian population grows – mostly through immigration – we must continue to invite new Canadians to connect with parks, which necessitates access.
Parks Canada has made a positive shift in the last couple of years to offer shuttle buses. A great starting point would be to increase investment in local and regional transit. This would achieve climate goals by limiting vehicles travelling to and from the parks and improve equity for underrepresented demographics.
Parks Canada and essential stakeholders like guides, businesses, and environmental groups all share the same priorities – healthy and inclusive parks that balance visitor experience with sustainability. Innovative projects and enhanced visitor offerings can ensure a healthy mountain park network that can be enjoyed by future generations and is not off-limits to various demographics.
Through the COVID-19 pandemic, we learned how important parks and natural areas are to the health and well-being of Canadians. People are important for parks as well. Connecting people to nature through meaningful experiences creates a culture of long-term environmental stewardship.
Association of Mountain Park Protection and Enjoyment (AMPPE)