May 26th, 2017

Celebrating our national treasures

By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on January 5, 2017.

Free passes good way to promote Canada’s parks

Canada is celebrating its 150th birthday this year and Parks Canada is giving everyone a birthday present.

The agency is offering free admission throughout 2017 to Canada’s national parks, historic sites and marine conservation areas. While that sounds like a great way to encourage more people to visit these places, there are some who are concerned about the impact of increased traffic to Canada’s parks.

In a Canadian Press story in Tuesday’s Herald, retired nature guide and author Ben Gadd worried about the effect of more vehicles in the parks.

“Clearly the highway system in the mountain parks – it is going to be terrible next summer all summer long,” said Gadd. “When you have that situation and animals trying to cross there are going to be more accidents, more animals killed.”

Eric Hebert-Daly, the national executive director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, likes the Parks Canada plan in principle but acknowledges some concerns. He noted parks such as Banff and Jasper in Alberta and Ontario’s Bruce Peninsula are already extremely busy places, and he worries that an influx of even more people could infringe on the natural grandeur of the areas.

The free admission certainly has the potential to result in Canada’s parks and historic sites being much busier places this year. After all, Parks Canada has reported that more than 900,000 people have already ordered a free Discovery Pass in the first two weeks since they became available last month.

There are no doubt many people who would prefer to have as few other people around as possible when they’re basking in the natural wonders of Canada’s parks or visiting the country’s heritage sites. But the reality is that doesn’t make for a sustainable parks system.

In the same story, Ed Jager of Parks Canada said, “We can’t actually love our parks to death – I think the death of our parks is when nobody wants to come to them and when they don’t care about them anymore.”

That makes sense. Our national parks and historic sites require ongoing care and attention so Canadians and international visitors can continue to enjoy and appreciate these areas. That means ensuring that these places are protected and “maintained in an unimpaired state for future generations,” as the Parks Canada website notes.

If the number of visitors to these sites don’t warrant the effort and expense needed to maintain them, those who did visit would find their experiences hindered. Encouraging the use of Canada’s natural spaces will help ensure these places are maintained for others to enjoy into the future.

Parks Canada’s free admission promotion seems like a great way to encourage people who spend little or no time visiting Canada’s national parks and heritage sites to discover these hidden treasures.

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