The federal government said they’ll take a hard look at commercialization and development in Banff and Jasper national parks, in a move that could have consequences for a potential Calgary Olympic bid.
Ottawa’s report of the minister’s round table on Parks Canada 2017 identified overdevelopment in the mountain parks as a significant concern among the public when consultations were held last year.
Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said there will be review of those issues in the parks system, especially in Banff and Jasper.
“The government’s top priority for the parks is protecting their ecological integrity and this requires limits on development, especially where it can impact ecosystem health,” she said.
“We know that parks have a huge benefit to the economy … but you can also love parks to death.”
The report comes comes while Calgary discusses a bid for the 2026 Winter Olympic Games, which could involve hosting alpine skiing events at Lake Louise in Banff National Park.
Anne-Marie Syslak, executive director for the southern Alberta chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, said McKenna’s promised approach should rule out holding Olympic events in Banff.
“We’ll be looking to her, and she needs to make it clear based on the prescription of this report, that an Olympic event or any large-scale event in the national parks is not appropriate because of the pressures it would add to the area,” she said in an interview Monday.
“The area is already under overwhelming development pressure.”
New commercial structures like the Glacier Skywalk in Jasper and the Via Ferrata in Banff have been flashpoints for concern among conservationists because of their potential impact on wildlife.
Syslak said the government’s position should put a stop to new “problematic developments” such as a proposed Icefields Trail and expansion of the Lake Louise resort.
McKenna said the government is already reviewing the Icefields Trail, a proposed paved biking and walking path that would connect Jasper to the Columbia Icefield.
“That’s somewhere where we have heard concerns … in terms of, is that the best way to spend limited dollars, but also what is the impact?” she said. “I am paying very close attention to that.”
On the Olympics, McKenna said she wouldn’t prejudge discussions but said protecting the environment would be the key concern for Ottawa.
“We will look very closely at that, should there be a suggestion of using national parks in relation to Olympic or Paralympic events.”
Calgary’s Olympic bid team has favoured Lake Louise, a regular site of World Cup ski events, for a potential 2026 Games bid.
But Nakiska in Kananaskis Country, which hosted alpine events during the 1988 Calgary Games despite suffering numerous postponements due to high winds, remains an option.
A $30-million Olympic bid corporation, funded by the city, province and Ottawa, is being put together but no final decision has been made about whether the city will vie for the games.
As the Liberal government grapples with over-development in parks, it is striking an independent working group to Parks Canada’s practices and approval policies for development. That group is to report back by the end of August.
In the report, Parks Canada also pledged to improve transportation plans for high-traffic areas in the parks, “including initiatives to limit traffic, add shuttle services, or provide alternate transit and travel options.”
For more on the anti-Olympics movement visit CPAWS here.