Monday, August 21, 2006

Park development a bad idea

VICTORIA - There are some passable arguments for promoting development in provincial parks, but ultimately it remains a bad idea. The government is opening the door to development in a dozen parks this month, encouraging everything from cabins for hikers to lodges with up to 100 beds. The first calls for proposals have already gone out, and they include wilderness parks like Cape Scott at the northern tip of Vancouver Island.
Environment Minister Barry Penner says it’s all about access. Just because people can’t sleep in a tent doesn’t mean they shouldn’t get to stay in a wilderness park, he says. British Columbians are getting older and more rickety and want somewhere comfy to stay, and Penner says the environment ministry has to meet the need. And he promises that the government is being careful to make sure that any development won’t wreck the parks.
The problem is that once you begin constructing lodges and cabins and the various facilities needed to support them, you no longer have a wilderness park. Paving the West Coast Trail and creating little lodges along the way would make it more accessible. It would also destroy it.
Penner doesn’t mention the money, but that’s also behind this drive for commercial development. The government is counting on companies to pay for the right to build and operate businesses inside parks. The successful developers will get 30-year leases.
You can make a weak case for development in some parks, I suppose, particularly ones already on major highways or partially developed.
But the best policy would be to recognize the importance of preservation and the responsibility to keep parks whole.
That doesn’t mean that parks have to be exclusively for the fit and able-bodied.
If greater access is the goal – and if there is consumer demand - then development could be encouraged just outside parks, in communities that would be glad of the economic activity and additional tax base. Instead of plunking a lodge down inside a park, services could be provided just outside the park boundaries and steps taken to improve access for visitors.
And if developers want a shot at operating a true wilderness lodge, there are thousands of square kilometres of Crown and private land available outside parks. Negotiate a lease and build away.
That’s what some operators have already done. And those projects have shown that development inevitably brings significant change. It’s not just the construction of a lodge or cabins. The operator needs to transport supplies into the park; staff have to be housed; visitors will almost certainly demand more services or better roads. The government claims it consulted with the public on the plan to expand commercial development in parks, but it’s hard to find supporters.
The opposition, however, is remarkably broad-based. More than a dozen conservation and environmental groups oppose the plan. The B.C. Wildlife Association, which represents fishermen and hunters, thinks it’s a bad idea. So do wilderness tourism operators.
And they all fear that these proposals are just the start and that development will be encouraged in more provincial parks across the province.
These aren’t the extremists, the people who would be happiest if no one – or at most a handful of people - ever ventured into parks. They recognize that parks, while vital in protecting wilderness, are also for people.
But they believe that access can be offered without unnecessary commercial development inside park boundaries. Penner says the public will get a say on whether the specific proposals go ahead. But the government’s official policy on park development, released last month, is alarmingly vague on how the public will have a meaningful chance to offer its views. There are no provisions for public hearings or formal consultation.
B.C. has a magnificent park system, which we hold in trust for future generations.
We shouldn’t permanently damage that heritage, especially when there are alternative ways of improving access.
Footnote: The 12 parks covered in the first new development wave are Mount Robson in the Omineca Region, Elk Lakes, Mount Assiniboine and Nancy Greene in the Kootenays,  Wells Gray (in the Cariboo, Foch-Giltoyees in the Skeena region, Cape Scott on northern Vancouver Island, Maxhamish Lake in the Peace, Golden Ears in the Lower Mainland and Fintry, Silver Star and Myra Bellevue in the Okanagan.


Anonymous said...

Though I'm a tenter myself, I must admit I was among those who initially bought this idea, thinking it only reasonable & fair to provide visitor facilities for those who don't or can't sleep in tents, with the added benefit of promoting economic activity in struggling coastal communities.

But your point is absolutely right on. This can and should be done on private lands outside the park boundaries, leaving the parks themselves intact and pristine.

The shortsightedness of this initiative will be hard to ignore, well into the future, and especially as we start to understand the priceless future worth of that pristine wilderness. I think the Liberals will foolishly alienate a big chunk of upscale green votes & moderate progressives who would have been theirs for the taking otherwise.

Anonymous said...

WE used to cross country ski at Manning Park and saw no problem if we wished to stay overnight in one of the places close to but not in the park. win win for everyone. and of course we all knew the gas station sold things we might need, and it too was outside the park. The hotel inside the park was horribly expensive so beyond the means of many ordinary folks who want a days skiing and a quiet place to sleep. But money talks for the present government. They really don't think things out that well. Their big effort to make money inparking meters was a good example of small minds and greed. WE went up to some park up island, massive parking lot, two cars. Everyone else parked on the highway edge, making accidents much more likely. What a bunch of money grubbers