February 9, 2012
Parks Canada is providing the following information regarding Brewster Travel Canada’s proposed Glacier Discovery Walk and Parks Canada’s determination on the Environmental Assessment.
Q1:What is this project? What will it mean to park visitors?
A1: A full description of Brewster’s proposal to build a Glacier Discovery Walk can be found on Brewster's website.
The proposal will modify the Mount Kitchener/Sunwapta Canyon viewpoint on the Icefields Parkway to allow for a 300-metre interpretive boardwalk and a glass-floored observation platform that will extend 30metres out over the Sunwapta Valley. Visitors to the boardwalk will take a free shuttle bus from the existing Icefields Centre, 6.5 km south of the viewpoint. At the viewpoint, visitors will be able to take in the view as they do now from the north end of the pull-out, or buy a ticket to go on a guided interpretive tour of the walkway and out onto the glass-floored observation area.
Q2: Why did Parks Canada consider this proposal?
A2: Parks Canada needs to become more relevant to more Canadians by providing services and activities that respond to a broader range of visitor needs and expectations. Parks Canada seeks to offer experiences for different types of visitors who can connect with nature in many different ways. Recent park survey results show that more than 90% of visitors come to the park for sightseeing and prefer a comfortable view from the edge, not venturing far from the road.
The Brewster proposal has the potential to provide new visitor opportunities and learning experiences along the Icefields Parkway – a historic scenic drive built to provide visitors opportunities to understand and connect with nature.
Q3: How can a proposal for this kind of major development be consistent with park policy?
A3: The proposal is consistent with the Icefields Parkway Strategy, which was developed with public participation, respects the approved management plans for both Banff and Jasper national parks. The choice of location is consistent with existing land use zoning in that it will not intrude into the 97% of park lands managed as wilderness. The project will use an existing underutilized viewpoint, and involves no incremental development such as new staff accommodation, transportation nodes, or maintenance facilities as it is supported by Brewster’s operations at the Icefields Centre.
Q4: Why would Parks Canada agree to turn a free public viewpoint into one that would only be available to paying customers?
A4: Parks Canada continues to own all land in Canadian national parks. Brewster will hold a leasehold agreement with Parks Canada to operate at this viewpoint. Although public access to the Mount Kitchener/Sunwapta Canyon viewpoint will change under the proposal, free public access to part of the viewpoint will still exist. Parks Canada believes that the potential merits of the proposed new walkway will ultimately improve the visitor experience of the area. There are two other public viewpoints in the immediate area (Stutfield Glacier and Tangle Falls), and more than 20 other viewpoints along the parkway and the Icefields Centre itself.
This development is not unlike several other commercial operations in Jasper National Park : Whistlers Tramway, Marmot Basin Ski Area, Maligne Lake boat tours, all of which offer commercial front country experiences for visitors. A range of opportunities are available in Jasper National Park, and if desired, visitors have the option to choose to use commercial operators to experience their national park.
Q5: How was the public consulted on this proposal?
A5: Brewster conducted a range of public awareness and consultation activities, including five public open houses held in Jasper, Banff, Edmonton and Calgary. The project and the development review process were also discussed at the Jasper National Park Public Forums held in Jasper and Edmonton.
The open houses offered members of the public an opportunity to review detailed project information and to meet with project staff and invited initial public comment on their proposal. Brewster engaged with potential supporters and opponents, and interested Aboriginal groups. A report on Brewster’s public and Aboriginal engagement activities is available on their website.
As per the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA), Parks Canada invited comments on the draft environmental assessment from the public and interested Aboriginal groups in for a three-week period, which ended on December 16, 2011. Significant feedback about the project and the draft environmental assessment was received from organisations and individuals. Parks Canada thanks all those who took the time and effort to express their passion and commitment for national parks.
Q6: How was public and Aboriginal comment used in the decision-making?
A6: The public feedback received by Parks Canada about the proposed Glacier Discovery Walk indicates strong public interest and a range of opinions. Many well-reasoned perspectives were received for, and against, the proposal.
Public and Aboriginal participation in the process helped Parks Canada and Brewster better understand public concerns. Many of those concerns contributed to strengthening the environmental assessment and identifying requirements and mitigations for the project. All public feedback was recorded and analyzed and a summary report on what we heard will soon be released.
Parks Canada appreciates public participation in this process and gave serious consideration to all comments we received. The number of public responses for or against a project is not the only factor in evaluating public concerns. Parks Canada must take into account the nature of the comments, the validity and scope of concerns expressed, the geographic area represented by respondents, and whether the comments provide new information relevant to the assessment.
The Superintendent of Jasper National Park is the decision-making authority in the environmental assessment process for the proposed Glacier Discovery Walk. As required under CEAA, the Superintendent took public comments into account when deciding on a course of action.
Q7: What did you hear from the public?
A7: Parks Canada received feedback regarding the project from across Canada and internationally, with over half of the comments coming from Alberta and British Columbia. Submissions were sent by representatives of tourism organizations, regional municipalities, environmental organizations, other non-governmental organizations and individuals.
The majority of the individuals we heard from opposed the project in principle. They feel it would be an inappropriate development in a national park and appears inconsistent with park policies, especially in terms of protection and preservation. They have concerns over the loss of public access and the privatization of a public viewpoint.
Although fewer submissions were received specific to the environmental assessment, concerns were raised over the environmental effects of the project, especially the impacts on wildlife in the area.
Supporters of the project feel that it would provide an excellent new visitor opportunity and meets Parks Canada’s objectives for the park, including attracting new visitors who wouldn’t normally consider visiting their national parks. The project would use existing infrastructure and the environmental effects will be minimal. Some feel that visitor appreciation and enjoyment are areas that have been neglected in the past and welcome the proposal to innovate in this area.
Q8: How will you address the concerns regarding wildlife, especially mountain goats and sheep?
A8: Parks Canada is committed to protecting the goats and sheep in the area. Management of the project and continued monitoring will be designed to ensure that these wildlife populations continue to use the area, that highway mortality rates do not increase, and that these animals do not become habituated due to human activity.
Parks Canada will ensure that these impacts are mitigated through proper design, construction, operation and maintenance of the walk. For example, the walkway will be designed to minimize visual, auditory, and other sensory intrusions to sheep and goats on the cliffs below; construction will not occur during kidding or lambing season; and the hours of operation will be shortened to provide for early and late-day animal movement.
An ongoing monitoring program will be designed to assess and adapt the mitigation measures throughout the construction and operation to ensure that impacts on wildlife are minimized and populations remain secure.
Q9: What about the other environmental concerns? Increased traffic, pollution and aesthetics?
A9: Construction will be planned to take place in a single season to minimize traffic and associated disturbances. Parks Canada will require Brewster to develop a site-specific plan for its operations in the Columbia Icefields area to manage growth and development; to use best practices in the operation of the site; and to demonstrate leadership in environmental management, stewardship and the provision of visitor experiences that promote learning and appreciation of the area and the park as a whole.
As part of the environmental assessment determination by Parks Canada, Brewster will be required to invest in the specific mitigations to address visitor impacts. Measures could include improvements to visitor opportunities in the area, such as improving nearby viewpoints to provide for safe viewing, installing new interpretive media and repairing parking lots. Potential use of the free shuttle bus to transport visitors to other opportunities in the area could reduce traffic congestion, increase public safety and reduce carbon emissions.
Q10: What about the significant public comment? Does it count?
A10: We heard from thousands of very passionate Canadians, who feel very strongly about national parks and Jasper in particular. We thank everyone for their input into the public consultation process and are addressing concerns and ideas in our mitigation measures. However, a consultation process is not a plebiscite.
Parks Canada accepts that this may be an unpopular decision amongst some park supporters and not all will agree that this proposal is a good idea. Parks Canada believes in the merits of the new experience and is committed to ensuring that the project is implemented and operated in ways that will not adversely affect the environment and the ecology of the area.
Q11: Does this mean a watering down of Parks Canada’s commitment to ecological integrity to provide new visitor experiences?
A11: No. As a world leader in conservation, Parks Canada would not approve this project if there were environmental concerns that could not be addressed.
Our national parks represent the very best that Canada has to offer. They are the destinations of choice for millions of Canadians and visitors from around the world, and, together, protect an area roughly the size of Germany.
Parks Canada is well-known for its achievements in maintaining and restoring ecological integrity while providing visitors with opportunities to learn and nurturing deep connections with our parks and sites. For example, in 2010, Parks Canada received the World Wildlife Fund’s Gift to the Earth award, its highest accolade for conservation work of outstanding global merit. More recently, the Royal Canadian Geographic Society presented a Gold Medal to Parks Canada, the Dehcho First Nations and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society for the expansion of Nahanni National Park Reserve.
In the mountain national parks, we have made significant achievements in protecting species at risk. We recently released a conservation strategy for southern mountain caribou and will be implementing specific actions over the next several years. We are working hard to restore aquatic connectivity in our rivers and lakes, bringing back the benefits of natural fire and vegetation to the landscape, managing our trails and human activity to reduce our impact on wary species like bears and wolves.
Q12: What are the next steps in the development review process? When will the Glacier Discovery Walk be open to the public?
A12: The findings of the environmental assessment will be reflected in Brewster's final design plans, construction management, and programs for traffic safety, wildlife monitoring, and environmental stewardship. Parks Canada and Brewster will work together to refine the details of environmental follow up programs, undertake lease negotiations, complete construction and operational agreements to ensure mitigation measures, and project permitting. Both Brewster and Parks Canada would like to see construction during the summer and fall of 2012 to limit the impacts to wildlife and visitors to one operating season. It is anticipated that the walk could be open to the public as early as spring or summer of 2013.
Information on the proposal and the draft environmental assessment prepared by Brewster is available on Brewster’s Glacier Discovery Walk website at: www.glacierdiscoverywalk.ca/downloads.html
For more information please contact:
The Office of the Superintendent, Jasper National Park of Canada
Mail: P.O. Box 10, Jasper Alberta T0E 1E0.