4.0 Public Understanding, Appreciation and Enjoyment of National Parks

National Parks are "dedicated to the people of Canada for their benefit, education and enjoyment ... and shall be maintained and made use of so as to leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations." Since these words were enshrined in the National Parks Act in 1930, many millions of Canadians have visited their national parks. Millions more in Canada and around the world have enjoyed books, films, articles and photographs depicting the intricate wonders of these special places. From these direct and indirect experiences has grown an increased level of understanding and appreciation of the natural values for which the parks are established and protected. This has, in turn, led to strong public support for maintaining the ecological, educational and cultural values of the parks by people of widely varied interests and capabilities. Maintaining this support is essential to completing the national parks system as well as for protecting the existing parks.

To fulfill the obligations of the National Parks Act and serve the people of Canada, park values must be maintained forever. A comprehensive Visitor Activity Management Process has been developed that is predicated on analysis of social science information and integrated with natural and cultural science information. Clear service objectives must be used in determining benefit, education and enjoyment opportunities, since the provision of such opportunities must be measured against the obligations imposed by the Act to maintain the parks unimpaired. This means that not every kind of use requested by the public can be provided.

In meeting the obligations of the Act, Parks Canada does not stand alone. Provincial, territorial, municipal and private agencies will be encouraged to provide complementary opportunities, programs and facilities outside national parks in ways that respect shared ecosystems and the distinctive qualities of local communities. The practice of environmentally sustainable tourism will constitute an important mutual linkage with other land management agencies and private interests.

4.1 Management of Visitor Activities

The Visitor Activities Management Process will be used to match visitor interests with the specific educational and outdoor recreation opportunities determined for each national park through the management plan.

Consistent with maintaining ecological integrity, each national park may offer a variety of outdoor recreation opportunities conforming to the zoning determined in the management plan. These will serve visitors of diverse interests, ages, physical capabilities and skills so that they can understand and experience the park's natural environment .

Only outdoor activities which promote the appreciation of a park's purpose and objectives, which respect the integrity of the ecosystem, and which call for a minimum of built facilities will be permitted.

As new or modified forms of outdoor recreation emerge, each will be assessed for its appropriateness nationally before consideration in the park management planning process. Individual park management plans will then specify the types and ranges of both new and existing appropriate outdoor recreation activities and their supporting facilities. Parks Canada will also periodically review its national directives to ensure that new forms of outdoor recreation are adequately considered.

The private sector and non-governmental organizations, such as volunteers, cooperating associations and the Canadian Parks Partnership, will be encouraged to provide skills development programs that will increase visitor understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of the national parks.

An integrated visitor activities data base will be developed and kept up to date for each national park to provide, along with research, monitoring and evaluation, the visitor information required for park management decisions and state of the parks reporting to Parliament. The information gained will be used to add to or improve existing opportunities, and in the development and review of park management plans, service plans, and visitor risk management programs. Both activity data and park infrastructure and environment data will be incorporated into risk assessments. Risk control measures will consider the experience needs of the visitor and promote visitor self-reliance accordingly.

Parks Canada will use a variety of direct and indirect strategies for managing public use. Examples of direct strategies include zoning, rationing use intensity, restricting activities, and law enforcement. Examples of indirect strategies include facility design, information dispersal, and cost recovery mechanisms.

Provisions for public understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of the cultural resources located in national parks, and associated activities, services and facilities, will be made in accordance with the policy on Cultural Resource Management.

4.2 Interpretation and Public Education

Parks Canada will continue to develop and enhance its information, interpretation and extension programs and services as a principal means of achieving its protection and presentation objectives, building constituencies and fostering national identity.

Information will be made available to all Canadians, as well as to park visitors, to encourage and assist them in understanding, appreciating, enjoying and protecting their national parks.

Parks Canada will welcome visitors and make them aware of the opportunities for understanding, appreciating and enjoying each national park through its programs, services and facilities. It will also provide information on relevant regulations and the necessary skills and equipment to safely participate in an activity. Particular efforts will be made to provide visitor orientation at key locations to ensure that visitors understand the purpose of national parks and their role in protecting them; can easily locate park features, services and facilities; and can freely choose whether they wish to participate in an activity or not. Visitors will be made aware of risk assessment information and of their responsibility to incorporate this information into their activity planning.

Parks Canada will provide the public with interesting and enjoyable opportunities to observe and discover each park's natural, cultural, historical and environmental features and processes, as well as the park's resource management issues and practices, both within and outside national parks. It will present these opportunities in a variety of ways using personal and non-personal interpretive techniques. Parks Canada may present park themes and messages directly or indirectly through cooperative arrangements.

Parks Canada will relate park themes and messages to broader environmental issues to provide the public with opportunities to acquire the knowledge and skills to make environmentally responsible decisions.

Parks Canada will provide interpretation programs on challenges to maintaining the ecological integrity of national parks in order to foster greater public understanding of the role that protected spaces play in a healthy environment.

Information on a park and its themes will be accessible to all visitors. Where the location of a service or facility illustrating the themes prevents access by persons with disabilities, special programs or services will be offered.

Institutions and groups may be permitted to use the parks for educational activities or research, in ways that do not impair the ecosystem or limit enjoyment by other users.

Parks Canada will be responsible for the preparation and presentation of interpretation programs and special events. In meeting this objective, Parks Canada will welcome and seek the assistance of informed individuals, professionals, and interest groups.

4.3 Visitor Services and Facilities

Parks Canada, working in cooperation with others, will offer high-quality visitor services by ensuring that park resources do not deteriorate and that quality visitor experiences are not diminished.

Parks Canada will cooperate with the tourism sector toward fulfilling public needs for a broad range of essential services and facilities within the regions surrounding national parks, particularly as they relate to the practice of environmentally sustainable tourism. To avoid impacts on park ecosystems and to contribute to regional economic development, the location of commercial services and facilities should take place in adjacent communities. Parks Canada will locate its own administrative facilities outside the parks wherever possible provided that the location would have the least impact on a shared ecosystem.

Certain services and facilities arf essential for public access to, as well as understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of, heritage areas. Provision of such services and facilities within national parks will be based upon the following considerations:

  • impacts on the ecosystem as well as on specific natural and cultural resources;
  • contribution to the interpretation of park themes and messages; heritage character and historical appropriateness;
  • types of opportunities and activities appropriate to the area, as set out in management plans;
  • a high degree of concern for site planning and choice of construction materials;
  • environmentally appropriate design, aesthetics, architectural motif, and energy conservation; and
  • the needs and expectations of visitors, consistent with park objectives.

Within national parks, essential services and facilities will serve the basic needs of the public, and will be directly related to the provision of understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of the natural and cultural heritage. While protection of the environment and heritage resources is paramount, Parks Canada is committed to the principles of service excellence. Normally, services and facilities will be grouped together within appropriate zones for energy conservation and protection of park resources, public convenience and equality of access.

The involvement of the public including private and voluntary organizations, such as cooperating associations and the Canadian Parks Partnership, will be encouraged in the planning, development and operation of appropriate services and facilities for visitors in national parks.

The setting of rates controlled by Parks Canada for use of services and facilities provided either by Parks Canada or by private enterprise should take into account such market factors as supply and demand, and the price, quality and location of related services outside national parks.

Parks Canada will continue to develop and adopt architectural and environmental design guidelines and standards for each park so that the scale, site, accessibility, form, aesthetics and function of structures are in harmony with the setting.

4.4 Access and Circulation

Where feasible, access and circulation within national parks will be designed to supply opportunities for understanding, appreciation and enjoyment for visitors of all ages, skills and physical abilities. Special information programs will be offered where direct access is excessively challenging or inappropriate. All access and circulation will be defined in management plans and conform with zoning.

Non-motorized means of transportation will be favoured in national parks wherever feasible. Public transit for park purposes will be preferred where special circumstances warrant.

Access by private or commercial aircraft within national parks will not be allowed except to remote areas where reasonable travel alternatives are not available; where it has been authorized through the management planning process and specified by regulation; and under strict controls designating landing sites, times, flight lines, altitudes and any special conditions related to resource protection, including wildlife harassment or the enjoyment of the park by other visitors.

Roads and trails may be constructed if their primary function is to serve park purposes, they have been approved under the park management plan and they meet the full requirements of the Federal Environmental Assessment and Review Process. New roads and trails that constitute through routes designed to serve other than park purposes will not be considered.

4.5 Visitor Accommodation

Within national parks, preference will be given to basic accommodation facilities such as campgrounds, hostels and shelters which enhance visitors' understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of the parks' special values and which provide access to additional, enjoyable park experiences including a range of appropriate recreational opportunities.

In particular, camping opportunities, activities and services are directly related to the national park mandate of providing benefit, education and enjoyment to park visitors and, therefore, will be the principal form of accommodation made available to the majority of park visitors.

In some national parks, the commercial sector may be invited to provide roofed accommodation due to severe climate conditions and the lack of existing or potential adjacent facilities. Any such facility must not impair the wilderness experience of others, will be assessed within the management planning process, and if authorized must stringently conform to the zoning plan.

Where commercial accommodation is provided within national parks, it will enhance understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of natural settings; provide access to additional park experiences, including a range of recreational opportunities; and be available for use by the general public.