By David F. Rooney
How should the backcountry in Mount Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks be best utilized and protected? That’s one of the $64,000 Questions Park Superintendent Karen Tierney and her staff need to answer as they labour to meet an October deadline for the first draft of their Park Management Plan.
Towards that end, they have been seeking public input through a series of workshops intended to help them draft the best plan possible. The Park Management Plan, which will — when completed and approved — be tabled in the House of Commons, is not only Parks Canada’s contract with the public it is its guiding vision for the future of the two national parks.
You’d think there’d be something like consensus on the best ways to use the parks’ magnificent backcountry. This was a great opportunity to have a say in the way the two parks are operated. This was especially true for men and women who have a sense of the importance local residents have historically placed on them.
“Look at Revelstoke’s history over the last 40 or 50 years,” said guide Norm Winter. “People have always come here because they value the mountain lifestyle and Revelstoke’s connection with the wilderness. It doesn’t matter whether you were hunter or a logger or mountain guide or a backcountry skier. If you appreciated what we have have here you wanted to stay and live here.”
And for Winter that means having a say on the way the parks are evolving. And they are evolving. Canada’s national parks were very different things 50 years ago and doubtless will change again over the next 50 years. What matters is that many of the changes reflect the evolving values of our society. Once upon a time parks were regarded as places where people went to recreate in fairly conventional fashion. Today, we value their splendour, their solitude and their relatively unspoiled nature. We see them as biological treasure chests and don’t want to see them pillaged.
But we don’t discourage all commercial exploitation. Professional guiding outfits have always coexisted with the parks, largely because they share the overall values of the parks staff that safeguard them. They might use horses in some parks or just their own two feet or canoes in others but they won’t use ATVs to take their clients into the great outdoors.
However, the pressures to change the rules on access are strong and persistent.
Take this meeting, where people were asked to post their comments on different possibilities. Under the heading, Future Best Activities, were a number of Post-It notes called for the raising of the ban on mountain bikes in the national parks. Others called for hand gliding to be allowed. Yet right next to it, under Future Best Experiences, were yellow stickies calling for more solitude, quiet, peace and continued isolation. under Future Best Services was a suggestion that Internet connections be made available and under What’s Missing people said there wasn’t enough freedom, there weren’t any horses and mushroom and berry picking were forbidden. Clearly, not everyone is on the same page when it comes a best anything in the backcountry.
That conundrum was hammered home in a session on the winter permit system for backcountry skiers in Glacier National Park.
After Jeff Goodrich discussed the way Parks Canada is anchoring permit areas to avalanche control points, Mountain Safety Program Manager Sylvia Forest talked about why Parks Canada made five formerly permitted ski areas in Glacier off limits last winter.
Basically, Parks Canada had for years granted backcountry ski permits to people who then had to trespass on Canadian Pacific Railway property — the CPR main line through Rogers Pass — without so much as a by-your-leave in order to access the Fortitude, Mount Smart, Ross Peak, Tupper and Shaugnessy areas. All were closed when the CPR complained, although Ross Peak and Tupper were re-opened after Parks staff found a way to get skiers to them without crossing the CPR line.
Forest said Parks Canada is currently negotiating with the CPR and hopes to resolve the access issue by (if it can swing a deal with the CPR) establishing level crossings.
“It we can figure out how to make that work it will make it easier to open those areas,” she said.
To find out more about the Park Management Plan and public input please go to: http://www.pc.gc.ca/pn-np/bc/revelstoke/plan/index_e.asp.