Fall 2018 playground relocation
When did the playground relocation begin?

Relocation work started in September 2018. Waterton Lakes National Park’s fall construction projects traditionally start after the Labour Day long weekend to minimize disruption during the peak visitor season while taking advantage of the short construction season.

Are there any alternative playgrounds available during construction?

Yes. There is an existing playground adjacent to the Waterton Community Centre, located at 201 Cameron Falls Drive. This park was built with young children and families in mind, and will not be affected by construction. It remains open throughout the year and will serve as a safe, fun alternative until the new playground and splash park is complete.

When will the new playground and splash park open?

The new playground and splash park located at the Community Centre are expected to be ready for the Canada Day long weekend in July 2019.

What will happen to the existing playground and spray park?

Parks Canada is ensuring the playground and spray park continue to be part of the vibrant, high-quality visitor experience in the townsite.

Parks Canada is pleased to have an agreement in place with the Waterton Park Community Association to relocate the playground and spray park to its new location on Block 42, near the Waterton Community Centre. This provides provide a secure, long-term location for these popular community facilities. Parks Canada is covering the cost of relocation. In addition, Parks Canada will cover the cost of replacing any equipment that is past its life span with brand new equipment.

Will another outdoor play are be constructed as part of the new visitor centre?

Yes. The new visitor centre’s chosen design option site plan will provide visitors with a new ‘natural-materials’ playground. This will include new play equipment that incorporates more natural play structures, such as logs and large rocks. The new ‘natural materials’ style of playground is gaining popularity and will provide an opportunity to tie the playground in with the interpretive experience for visitors. As a result of the visitor centre project, visitors and the community will now enjoy new, outdoor play experiences at two locations upon completion.

Construction and placement
Why is a new visitor centre needed?

Visitor centres are a primary service offer in Canada’s national parks. Even before it was lost in the Kenow Fire on September 11th, 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 could no longer meet the needs of the more than half a million park visitors.

Where and when will the new visitor centre be built?

The new visitor centre will be located within the townsite of Waterton, at Block 39 along Windflower Avenue, close to the entrance of the Townsite Campground. Parks Canada will now proceed to finalize the detailed design in winter 2018, prior to contracting for construction, which is expected to begin in 2019.

Why was Block 39 chosen?

Visitor surveys tell us that 98% of all park visitors come to the village. The townsite offers a central, easily accessible location close to hotels, restaurants, stores, the marina, the Townsite campground, and parking. The proximity of a new visitor centre to services in the Waterton business district is expected to reduce traffic congestion by encouraging walking among visitors as they enjoy the wide range of visitor experiences in the village. At this location, Parks Canada can improve and enhance its service offer to visitors directly through welcome, orientation, and a full range of interpretive programing. The new Visitor Centre is not only a facility that provides visitors with information about things to do in the park; it will also provide a full range of interpretive programing, including nature conservation and cultural heritage, such as First Nations history and presence. The townsite location meets the requirement of the community plan, management plan, and the Canada National Parks Act, all of which identify the community of Waterton as the centre for visitor services in the Park. This project provides the best value for taxpayers as it allows for possible consolidation of three Parks Canada assets: the aging Falls Theatre, the Townsite Administration building, and the former visitor centre lost in the Kenow wildfire. Every effort will be made to integrate the visitor centre into the community. The height, materials, and overall look and feel of the new facility, including use of vegetation and natural screening, will be fully consistent with the approved design motif for the community.

How did Parks Canada decide where to locate the new visitor centre? What were the options?

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 townsite of Waterton as the center 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. The townsite location offers greater potential to minimize environmental and ecosystem impacts because it is within the footprint of the community of Waterton, so would not require removal of land from conservation. The townsite location also is one of few locations that can accommodate the size of the visitor centre facility. Twelve locations were reviewed: Three outside the townsite, including the Parks Canada compound, and nine within the townsite. Three of the nine townsite locations were identified by community members during consultations on this project. The review was conducted by a diverse and knowledgeable group of professionals. Parks Canada’s staff consisted of Park managers and specialists, project management leads, an architect from Parks Canada’s national office, and visitor experience specialists. A private architectural firm also provided evaluation advice.

Why can’t the visitor centre be located at the park operations compound?

The compound is not an appropriate location to create and strengthen connections and understanding for visitors to one of Canada’s most celebrated national parks and a World Heritage Site. The compound is the centre for all of Parks Canada’s operational activities in the park, including sewage and garbage management. Moreover, given the distance from the townsite and available space, the compound location limits the visitor offer to a welcome and quick orientation, but not the richer interpretative programming central to Parks Canada’s offer. It would also require that visitors (including campers) use their cars to go from the townsite/campground to the visitor centre to enjoy daily interpretive activities, which would increase traffic congestion on the main road into the townsite and within the townsite itself.

Does the loss of townsite green space for a visitor centre go against Parks Canada’s goals to protect nature?

Parks Canada is committed to providing visitors with green spaces in the townsite and unparalleled access to nature throughout Waterton Lakes National Park. The selected visitor centre location in the townsite, which was previously the location of buildings / cottages, is the preferred location for development and visitor services and does not require removal of land from conservation. It minimizes the environmental impact of development elsewhere in the park, including on areas that are home to sensitive rough fescue grasslands and species at risk, such as the half-moon hairstreak butterfly.

How much will it cost to design the new visitor centre, relocate the playground/spray park, and construct the new visitor centre?

In July 2015, the Government of Canada originally announced funding of $7.6 million for the new visitor centre in Waterton Lakes National Park. At that stage, this amount was a cost estimate to facilitate planning in advance of more detailed design work and contracting. Funding is in place to cover the final design and construction of the visitor centre, as well as relocating the playground/spray park to Block 42 and the playground washroom near the community kitchen. Over five years, Parks Canada is investing an unprecedented $3 billion to support infrastructure work in visitor, heritage, waterway, and highway assets across the country. Waterton Lakes National Park is receiving approximately $96 million to ensure the quality and reliability of visitor facilities and continue to allow Canadians to connect with nature.

Public safety
Does Parks Canada plan to conduct a safety study to address traffic congestion that may be caused by a visitor centre in the Waterton townsite?

Visitor surveys tell us that 98% of all visitors to Waterton Lakes National Park already visit the townsite. Traffic congestion issues associated with the increasing levels of visitation will be effectively managed through on-going implementation of plans to increase parking and improve way-finding throughout the townsite. In addition, a traffic management program for the townsite has been implemented, and infrastructure work has created an additional 153 new townsite parking spaces in 2017 compared to 2016, with additional parking capacity being installed as the infrastructure project continues. Additionally, a traffic engineer has been engaged to provide a technical review during the design stages of the new visitor facility and a comprehensive study for the final design. This work will assess parking and traffic, and where necessary, recommend measures to manage or mitigate any associated concerns. Parks Canada continues to explore best practices to effectively manage increasing visitation, including helping visitors plan their experiences, and establishing communications and traffic management plans. Parks Canada is also exploring the potential to consider shuttles and public transit options. Parks Canada manages a large number of sites with similar congestion as Waterton experiences during busy periods in the summer. Parks Canada’s safety record in this regard is longstanding, excellent, and a matter of public record.

What about safety concerns raised about increased traffic near a playground?

Parks Canada manages a large number of sites with similar congestion as Waterton experiences during busy periods in the summer. Parks Canada’s safety record in this regard is longstanding, excellent, and a matter of public record. A traffic engineer has been engaged to provide a technical review during the design stages of the new facility and a comprehensive study for the final design. This work will assess parking and traffic, and where necessary, recommend measures to manage or mitigate concerns.

Design and consultation
What consultations took place leading up to this decision?

The decision is based on the Waterton Lakes National Park Management Plan and the Waterton Community Plan, both of which are subject to extensive national consultations. It also reflects the legislative and policy designation of the townsite as the centre for visitor services in the park. Before the final decision on the location was made, Parks Canada engaged a range of stakeholders and leaseholders. These included: Improvement District #4, the Waterton Lakes Leaseholders Association, the Chamber of Commerce, the Waterton Park Community Association, and individual cottage and commercial leaseholders. Following extensive consultations with stakeholders and an analysis of all potential options, Parks Canada held a public information session in June 2016 to present the details of the site selection. At that meeting, Parks Canada committed to consider any new information that the Agency might have overlooked in selecting this site. The report of the public information session is available on Parks Canada’s web site. In April 2017, public consultation took place on three design concepts for the new Visitor Centre. These consultations included an online component and an open house in the community. On behalf of the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna, Mr. Jonathan Wilkinson, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, met with community organizations and stakeholders in August 2017 to hear their views and determine if there was new information or new issues that have not yet been considered. In November 2017, Minister McKenna issued a statement supporting Parks Canada’s decision to locate the new Waterton Lakes National Park visitor centre on Block 39 in the townsite. Parks Canada has worked closely with the Kainai First Nation and the Piikani Nation on this project, including a program to ensure integration of the Blackfoot connection to Waterton into the overall site development. Parks Canada is committed to ongoing dialogue with stakeholders on visitor experience and conservation at Waterton Lakes National Park.

Why was the Town Plaza design chosen?

The Town Plaza (Concept #3) design option was selected for the new Waterton Lakes visitor centre following public consultations, a community open house, and the careful review and consideration of three design options. Of the three concepts presented to Canadians, the Town Plaza design received the most support from those who commented on the design concepts. By incorporating Arts and Craft style elements, it best adheres to the existing architectural fabric/design motif of the community. The architectural consultants have advised that this design best fits the community from an architectural design perspective.

How was the public involved in the design decision?

In April 2017, Parks Canada invited Canadians to provide input on three design options for a new visitor centre in Waterton Lakes National Park. A six-week consultation period included an on-line engagement website, as well as an open house in the community on April 29th. Interested members of the public were provided with multiple resources, including planning reports, design principles, and three possible design options, in order to have all the information they needed to meaningfully contribute to the discussion. A total of approximately 4,000 visits to the consultation website and 86 attendees at the open house generated 115 comments on the design options.

Has Parks Canada consulted with Indigenous communities on the location of a new visitor centre in the townsite?

Working together with more than 300 Indigenous communities across Canada, Parks Canada is committed to telling the story and celebrating the contributions of Indigenous Peoples, their histories and cultures, as well as the special relationships Indigenous Peoples have with the lands and waters. Parks Canada has engaged directly with the Kainai (Blood) First Nation and the Piikani Nation in a consistent and extensive manner throughout this process both before and after the location of a visitor centre was announced. Parks Canada has worked with the Kainai and Piikani First Nations to develop the interpretive component of the new visitor centre. Members of the Kainai First Nation have been actively involved in the visual design of the project, which includes stories, songs, graphics, symbols, and exhibits. Once open, visitors will be able experience local Indigenous culture, history and connection to Waterton Lakes National Park. Parks Canada will continue to work closely with local Indigenous communities on matters relating to the management of Waterton Lakes National Park.

Why did Parks Canada not hold a second Public Open House as indicated on online engagement platform? Why was the What We Heard Report delayed?

Parks Canada tentatively planned a Public Open House for September 2017 to provide a detailed look at the selected design option and share the What We Heard report from design consultations with the public. Delays were necessary due to the significant impacts on the park and operations from the Kenow wildfire in September 2017. As the visitor and cottager season had ended for the year, Parks Canada shared the information with the public on its website and through direct communication with past participants in the consultation.

What are the main features of the Town Plaza design?

The building relates directly to Waterton’s environment through its uncomplicated design consistent with the Arts and Crafts style found in many buildings in Waterton, and the use of natural materials such as stone and wood. The selected design incorporates a large, open, multi-use space for interpretation, visitor information, theatre and related programming; includes expansive, south facing viewscapes from the main interpretive space; provides an appropriate space for a modest office consolidation; incorporates the remaining space on Block 39 to serve as a complementary platform to further visitor information and interpretation objectives; and, includes required parking.

How will interpretive elements be highlighted in the design?

The building itself will be the centre of interpretation and visitor information services. The large, open space with open views looking south down Upper Waterton Lake, make it an excellent platform to celebrate Waterton and share all that it represents with visitors. The plaza will welcome visitors and serve as a meeting place in the community. Interpretation and visitor information is also incorporated into the design of the plaza and the areas adjacent to the Visitor Centre. The visitor centre will have a full range of information services including modern interpretive exhibits that offer a variety of interpretive cultural programming and learning opportunities. The design also includes a nature-based playground, using natural materials, that will serve as a place for play and learning for families with children. Parks Canada values our relationship with the Blackfoot. We are working closely with Indigenous partners to develop interpretive material for the new Visitor Centre that reflect Blackfoot history, traditions, culture and connection to Waterton Lakes National Park.