Parks takes a step back from RV camping at Jasper Airfield

Updated June 5, 2015

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Note from the Jasper Environmental Association:

Under the Freedom of Information Act the Jasper Environmental Association received more than 300 pages of papers that were part of the process prior to the decision by Parks Canada to put forward the present airstrip day-use area as a group RV campground. While the final decision is now on hold while other sites are considered the airstrip site is still on the list of possibilities and “could still see group RV camping for up to 12 RVs”

In view of the very strong arguments against the proposed project that Jasper National Park biologists and other staff put forward we have to wonder how it ever got to the stage that it did before sliding to at least a temporary halt. The released documents contain page after page of concerns from experts regarding the importance of this rare grassland area and the use of this riverside corridor by large carnivores and other wildlife.

There were also questions regarding the whole concept of catering to group RV camping which, by its nature is “louder and more disruptive to other campers”. The under-staffed Law Enforcement Branch didn’t want it either. There may be a very good reason that there are none of these serviced group sites in the Rocky Mountain National Parks and are even rare out in the province of Alberta. It seems Parks Canada saw a chance to make money and was hoping to locate one far enough away from other campers where only the wildlife would be disrupted. 

Maybe Parks should follow its own Guiding Principles and Operational Policies 4.3.2: ‘To avoid impacts on park ecosystems and to contribute to regional economic development the location of commercial services and facilities should take place in adjacent communities.’

From the Jasper Fitzhugh June 4, 2015

Parks Canada is taking a “step back” from its plans to develop an unserviced RV campsite at the Jasper Airfield and is considering other locations for a similar group campsite.

“What we wanted to do was take a step back and look at the changing needs or the growing demands that we get from campers, particularly RVers, for group RV camping,” explained Greg Fenton, superintendent of Jasper National Park.

This reexamination does not, however, take the airfield off the table for group RV camping, he said. Rather, Parks is analyzing other possible sites to see if they can fill the need, as well as provide service hookups, but down the line, the airfield could still see group RV camping for up to 12 RVs.

Earlier this year, Parks was criticized for its proposal to provide group camping opportunities for RVs at the airfield because the area includes sensitive grasslands that could be negatively affected by increased human activity. It was also criticized for its lack of communication about the proposal.

Fenton said, although Parks heard those concerns, that’s not what’s causing the agency to take a step back. It’s just that the demand shows RVers want a group site with hookups.

Currently, that’s a service that isn’t available in the park.

“The majority of the demand for RVs is usually for serviced sites, that’s why we have been—as part of improvements in the past—moving to electrification of more sites at Wabasso Campground, Whistler Campground and Wapiti.

“But we haven’t really met the sort of niche market, if you wanted to call it that, or the demand for group RVing. That’s what we originally had looked at trying to do [at the airfield].”

The airfield, however, would only be appropriate for short visits as it wouldn’t include hookups for water, sewer or electricity.

Parks is now considering the possibility of group sites within its existing campgrounds, specifically Whistlers, Wabasso and Wapiti.

“[We’re] really looking at all of the existing campgrounds to see if we can meet some of that growing demand.”

To pay for the necessary upgrades, Fenton said Parks will be receiving some federal infrastructure initiative funds—although those funds haven’t yet been announced.

Parks’ analysis of possible sites is currently underway and Fenton said that when more is known the public will be notified and given an opportunity to submit feedback.

“As we make decisions on where the group camping opportunities might be in the existing campgrounds, we’ll certainly make those known to interested public, including residents.”

Fenton said he expects there won’t be any decisions until next year at the earliest.

In the meantime, work is being done at the airfield—which Parks is now calling the Athabasca Terrace Day Use Area—to “formalize” the site.

That includes installing fencing to delineate where people can drive and park, installing a small arbour for weddings, improving the seating at the site and upgrading the picnic shelters.

Fenton said that work will be completed this year.

“The other thing that will take place is easier access,” he said. “I’m not sure if it will be an online booking tool, but [we’re] looking at the possibilities of reservations, similar to camping reservations.”

He said if bookings don’t move online, at the very least, Parks will update its website to include information on how to book, what the fee is and what you get for that fee.

Nicole Veerman
editor@fitzhugh.ca

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