Official Secrets: Parks mum on airstrip campground

Updated February 13, 2015

jasper national park, athabasca valley, Jasper Environmental Association, Parks Canada, campgroundn

Riverbank wildlife habitat

Posted by:  Posted date: February 11, 2015 In: ArchiveLetters To The Editor | 

Dear Editor,

Margaret Atwood wrote: “The best way of keeping a secret is to pretend there isn’t one,” but from the secrecy surrounding a development proposal at the airstrip one would think Parks Canada was running a spy agency rather than a Canadian national park.

In answer to a direct question from the Jasper Environmental Association, a persistent rumour was confirmed that Visitor Services is planning a campground at the day-use airstrip picnic area for the somewhat convoluted reason of meeting “demands for groups travelling together with a mixed array of camping units.”

We asked for an open process of decision-making but Parks says it is “following its routine processes and will provide an opportunity for public feedback at an appropriate time.” This invariably comes after they have prepared an environmental assessment to oil the way for the project, which may be followed later by a few mitigations to appease the public.

Does Parks intend to cater to every variable of passing trends and whims of tourism? It is already financially unable to maintain its present infrastructure. How can it afford to install the numerous utilities required by this “mixed array” of campers? Rather than destroy this lovely riverside area, why not open more sites at Whistlers or Wapiti or let Hinton benefit from this kind of campground? How will Parks enforce protection of the grasslands area? What about Parks’ commitment to its status as a Dark Sky Preserve?

Apparently the site was chosen from a list of seven. Where are the other six? Parks says they didn’t fit the criteria because they had “the potential to create impediments for wildlife movement and displace wildlife from their habitat.”

Riverbanks are critically important as wildlife habitat and movement corridors and in 1999 Parks recognized this by closing the Jackladder waterfront site and carrying out a controlled burn to create more grassland. To now propose a campground in the middle of it indicates a blatant disregard for Parks’ legislated protection of ecological integrity.

In its unseemly haste to provide the ultimate in “visitor experience” Parks seems to have forgotten why visitors come to the national parks in the first place. According to polls, questionnaires and surveys they choose overwhelmingly to experience what remains of unspoiled wilderness ­and the magnificent species that live here—even though Parks Canada and Tourism Jasper try hard to sweep those polls under the carpet.

Jill Seaton
Jasper, Alta.

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