Location decision for the new Visitor Centre
The new visitor centre in Waterton Lakes National Park will meet the evolving needs of visitors and the community of Waterton. Parks Canada visitor centres are a primary service offered in our system of national parks.
Even before it was lost in the Kenow Fire on September 11, 2017, the 1958 visitor centre was no longer able to support the over 500,000 annual visitors the Park has welcomed in recent years. That centre was small (56 square metres / 600 square feet), shared limited parking with the busiest trailhead in the park, and was inadequate to meet the needs of half a million park visitors.
The townsite location (Block 39) is the best site to celebrate the natural and cultural heritage of the park and ensure that Canadians and visitors from around the world have the best possible experience in Waterton Lakes National Park. A new location will also contribute to a vibrant and healthy community.
The Parks Canada’s decision was based on four primary criteria: a) how best to serve park visitors, b) how best to achieve Parks Canada’s objectives, c) how best to achieve maximum value of the investment, and d) the role of the Waterton townsite as the centre for visitor services in the national park as set out in the Canada National Parks Act, the Waterton Lakes National Park Management Plan, and the Waterton Community Plan.
Parks Canada carefully researched and considered all possible locations for a new Waterton Lakes visitor centre. Eleven alternative locations for the visitor centre were considered, but did not offer all of the advantages of the townsite location and included a number of concerns for environmental impacts on undeveloped land, including on areas that are home to sensitive rough fescue grasslands and species at risk, such as the half-moon hairstreak butterfly. In addition, alternate locations did not offer the same advantages of being within normal walking distance of the townsite and main campground and had operational activities nearby that would have a negative impact on the quality of visitor experience and visitor safety.
The townsite location was chosen to offer visitors and residents the best possible experience while ensuring a number of other important objectives could be achieved. Specifically:
- This location offers a central, easily accessible site to present the park's ecological, cultural, and historical significance.
- A new visitor centre will significantly increase services to the hundreds of thousands of visitors who come to Waterton Lakes National Park annually. This location will maximize the opportunity for Parks Canada to connect directly, and multiple times during a stay, with the greatest number of visitors through welcome, orientation, and a full range of interpretive programming. This will improve Parks Canada’s ability to increase sharing of critical visitor information, such as how to appropriately view wildlife and avoid human-wildlife conflicts, and be prepared for recreational opportunities in the park.
- A visitor centre in the townsite will also encourage walking among visitors and limit vehicle use within the townsite (e.g. people can walk from their accommodation to the visitor centre multiple times during their stay).
- Since 98% of all park visitors go to the townsite, the townsite location of a new visitor centre is expected to connect with the most visitors, reduce traffic congestion during the busy summer months along the main road into the townsite, and provide easier walking access from anywhere in the village.
- The townsite location provides the best value for taxpayers as it allows for possible consolidation of three Parks Canada assets: the aging Falls Theatre, and Townsite Administration, and the former visitor centre lost in the Kenow wildfire.
- The townsite location offers greater potential to minimize environmental and ecosystem impacts because it is within the already developed footprint of the Waterton townsite. Therefore, it will not require removal of land from conservation. In addition, this is one of few locations that can accommodate the necessary size of the visitor centre.
The townsite location offers the best option for providing visitors and residents with positive visitor experiences and limiting impacts on the environment, the national park’s ecosystem, visitor safety, and traffic congestion.