From The Fitzhugh January 19, 2017
According to a recent press release from the minister of environment and climate change, the idea of the proposed Icefields bike trail is based on the Icefields Parkway strategic concept and Jasper and Banff National Park management plans but, oddly enough, we find there is no mention of a separate bike trail in any of these documents.
The strategic concept says merely that Parks would ‘explore options’ for cyclists and the Jasper management plan echoes the same phrase. The Banff management plan proposes to “provide 2 km of bike trail between Bow Valley Parkway and Icefields Parkway” to enable cyclists to avoid using the Trans Canada Highway but nothing is suggested that is not already in place with the shoulder on the Icefields Parkway that has been used by cyclists for decades.
Parks Canada says it has learned ‘a lot of lessons’ from the Legacy Trail that runs between Banff and Canmore. That’s odd because the Legacy Trail is only 22 km long and entirely fenced from natural hazards. It is safe from avalanches, mudslides, rockfalls and fast-flowing water; there are amenities at both ends and cell phone coverage. There have been a number of accidents on the trail, but it is easily accessible by ambulance.
How can one compare this ‘family-friendly’ Banff-Canmore trail to an unfenced 107 km bike trail through mountainous terrain with frequent extreme weather conditions and prime grizzly habitat with potentially dangerous wildlife encounters?
We now await the environmental assessment on this surprising plan to spend $86 million of taxpayers’ money on what could essentially be a three-month per year one-activity boondoggle. It will be interesting to see how Parks picks its way through the minefield of unmonitored wildlife populations as well as upcoming stipulations of the strategic action plan under the Species at Risk Act to protect the ‘threatened’ caribou herd whose habitat covers more than 20 km of the proposed trail. No doubt the words ‘minimum’ and ‘mitigations’ will figure prominently to help pull the wool firmly over the public’s eyes.
All that is realistically needed is a good repair job and some limited widening of the present parkway shoulder so experienced bikers can continue to enjoy it.
The money was prematurely allocated in the federal budget for this specific ‘Icefields Trail’ and Parks will fight to keep it, just as those who care about their irreplaceable national parks should fight to stop it.
Jasper Environmental Association