National Parks risk becoming irrelevant to Canadians

National parks are in danger of becoming irrelevant to Canadians in the future if visitor experience and education are not raised to the same level as ecological integrity under Parks Canada’s mandate, says the Association for Mountain Parks Protection & Enjoyment (AMPPE).

“Changes are needed to the National Parks Act and Parks Canada’s mandate to elevate the importance of visitor experience and education and to balance them equally with ecological integrity,” AMPEE Executive Director Monica Andreeff said in a December 27 statement.

AMPPE is a non-profit association that advocates for a balance between sustainable tourism, ecological integrity, visitor experience, and education in Canada’s mountain parks. Our members include ordinary skiers, hikers, and cyclists, as well as tourism businesses, ski areas and hotel operators.

“People need to connect with the wilderness through outdoor adventure activities that give them meaning and form a lasting impression. Otherwise Parks Canada is at risk of becoming irrelevant to its core funding base — Canadian taxpayers,” Andreeff said, adding that new projects, such as the Brewster Glacier Discovery Walk and Mount Norquay’s summer use proposal to build a Via Ferrata, can provide entry-level adventure for urban families, new Canadians, technology-focused youth, and senior citizens.

Private sector operators are more than willing to invest, however new proposals to enhance visitor experience face constant and unjustified criticism from a small vocal minority more concerned about exclusion rather than inclusion. These critics are interested in limiting people’s use and widespread enjoyment of Canada’s iconic wilderness recreation areas. Unfortunately these tactics erode public support for national parks, which are important to Canadian identity and a symbol of our nation respected around the world, Andreeff said.

AMPPE believes there is no place for elitist points of view in national parks. Not everyone can hoist a heavy backpack and go camping in the wilderness for three or four days. New Canadians may not have the skill set, and it’s almost impossible for families with small children.

More than a decade ago, Liberal Minister of Canadian Heritage Sheila Copps, rewrote the National Parks Act to make ecological integrity “the first priority” based on faulty science that predicted there would be 19 million annual visitors to Banff by 2020. Instead, Banff averages approximately three million people per year.