“Glacier Discovery Walk” Project to Go Ahead in Jasper
Another day, another commercial development in the heart of once-valued wilderness. In my last post, I advocated for opposing the “Glacier Discovery Walk” project. Perhaps it was naive, but it seemed like there might be a reprieve. On January 31 many of us received this email update from the Jasper National Park Superintendent’s office: “Parks Canada will take additional time to complete its determination regarding an environmental assessment of Brewster Travel Canada’s proposed Glacier Discovery Walk on the Icefields Parkway in Jasper National Park. A final determination will be made public in the coming weeks.”
I guess “in the coming weeks” meant “a few days from now”, since barely more than a week later — on February 9 — the following release came out: “Today, the Honourable Peter Kent, Canada’s Environment Minister and Minister responsible for Parks Canada, announced the decision to move forward with negotiations with Brewster Travel Canada’s proposal for a Glacier Discovery Walk project on the Icefields Parkway in Jasper National Park. The Glacier Discovery Walk project will be subject to mitigation measures identified through the environmental assessment process.”
More description of the decision can be read in the Parks Canada press release. In it, Minister Kent is quoted: “A major challenge in Canada’s national parks is to manage development in order to protect the area for future generations, while offering visitors the opportunity to enjoy and understand the national parks,” Minister Kent added. “During the public consultation process, we heard from many Canadians representing many perspectives. We recognize and appreciate the passion all Canadians feel for our national parks.”
Perhaps it’s overly obvious, but protecting the area for future generations would be less challenging if we “managed” development by doing less of it. While it’s great that our passion for the park was recognized, clearly it wasn’t particularly heeded.
With all due respect to the Minister & his staff, the team managing Jasper National Park, and Brewster Travel Canada, in my opinion this decision does not reflect well on Canada. It does not exemplify visionary leadership in preserving our dwindling wild places. Rather, it promotes commercial tourism interests and “ease of access” over conservation, and adds just one more layer of human engineering as an interface between us and the natural world. It increases the risk of glitzy infotainment delivered in a theme park context as a replacement for true understanding.
In the press release, Minister Kent extolled the project as an “innovative and accessible way for visitors of all ages and abilities to have a state-of the-art experience, ‘a view from the edge’ of the landscape.” He further stated, “We are proud of this new exciting way for visitors from across Canada and around the world to experience the amazing vistas and learn about our unique ecological and cultural heritage while promoting economic activity and jobs in Jasper and the surrounding areas.” That sounds great, and I’ll grant the value of some level of accessibility for a wide range of visitors. But in my view we don’t need the parks as showcases for engineered innovation in tourism features, nor to deliver more “state-of-the-art”, i.e. artificial rather than natural, experience. Nor should promotion of economic interests be a high priority of parks policy.
To me, this development flies in the face of what I believe about the mission of our National Parks system. I don’t agree with the assertion by Blake Richards, Member of Parliament for Wild Rose, Alberta, that “our mountain parks draw people from all around the globe to enjoy the unparalleled beauty of our province of Alberta. And it is enhanced opportunities for visitor experiences, such as the Glacier Discovery Walk, that will help to keep them coming back again and again.” I believe the wilderness by itself is what drew people to visit, and it is sufficient in its own right. I’ve talked to countless people from many places across the world, large numbers of whom have nothing like this left in their home regions. None of these folks have ever expressed to me their desire to come to visit our parks… if only we had more built-up infrastructure within them. Quite the opposite, in most cases!
Well, enough ranting. At this point I guess the project will simply go ahead, regardless. We can only hope it’s going to be less bad instead of more bad, thanks to the whatever is meant by the “mitigation measures identified through the environmental assessment process.”
Perhaps it’s not a dead loss. I hope I can get a hot burger & fries while looking out through the glass and steel construct, and listening to my MP3 player. Oh yeah, and learning about the glaciers…