July 26th, 2017

Ecotourism and Castle Park

By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on March 17, 2017.

Joe Pavelka

Mount Royal University

In the midst of the current controversy surrounding off-highway vehicles (OHV) in Castle Park there is a case for ecotourism and three points come to mind that would facilitate this development.

The first is that tourism in Alberta is diverse but our primary attraction and brand is adventure and ecotourism. All one needs to do is revisit the “Remember to Breathe” campaign that uses images of quiet recreation and undamaged landscapes and that becomes abundantly clear. The reality is that our brand consists of non-motorized outdoor recreation and as it turns out that is good business. In a 2012 document The Outdoor Recreation Economy: Take it outside for American jobs and a strong economy, the Outdoor industry Association of America, an organization based on non-motorized outdoor recreation, reports that outdoor recreation accounts for more than six million jobs, $650 billion in spending, and almost $40 billion in both federal and regional tax coffers. And when compared to other sectors it is larger than the auto industry (including parts) pharmaceuticals, gasoline and other fuels and household utilities. Our industry is obviously smaller in scale but not in importance and impact. Ecotourism is not about hippies cooking noodles on the side of the road by their VW van. It brings high-yield visitors to Alberta, intent on quality experiences.

Second, in Alberta we have a shortage of tourism product. That means when we fill up Banff and Jasper with visitors we have mostly maxed out our tourism potential. The Alberta Tourism Strategy (put together by the previous government) calls for expanding our product outside of Banff and Jasper. Castle Park represents a smart way to grow tourism and diversify the economy without compromising the environment for future generations. But we have to be smart about it and that means conserving the natural quality of these places and promoting low-impact recreation.

Third, growing tourism does not mean inviting hordes of tourists to trample the ground and resident way of life. In Alberta we have our own approach to tourism development. Tourism has three functions: to enhance the quality of life of residents; add to the tourism economy; and provide what is likely the best way for the region to “tell its story.” Castle Park is in a unique position to deliver on all three especially because we can learn from previous parks and do it right.

A feature of Castle Park and the Eastern Slopes that make it so special is that it affords one of the last places on the planet that is both wild and accessible. You can find “wild” or accessible but it’s hard to find both in one magical place. There is a place for OHV recreation on public land but it does not support sustainable tourism development. OHV recreation by its nature displaces other forms of recreation. It comes down to a simple question do we want to maximize the potential of Castle for residents and visitors or offer it to OHV users.

Joe Pavelka is Associate Professor of Ecotourism and Outdoor Leadership at Mount Royal University in Calgary.

One Response to “Ecotourism and Castle Park”

  1. streams says:

    In response to your statement Joe that when we fill up Banff and Jasper with visitors(tourists) we max out our tourist potential you forgot to mention Waterton Lakes National Parks I have see what tourism(hordes of tourists) has done to these three National Parks. You state we have the means to develop the Castle area because of what we have learned from the previous parks. I can not agree with your statements. I believe the Castle will and can only become trampled with tourists at the expense of Albertans and recreation. I for one do not enjoy the experience of pushing through the crowds in our national parks to look at a bear that acts unnaturally and may as well be in a zoo. The Castle drainages have some of the last wild areas in Southern Alberta and to build campgrounds and facilities for tourists in the Castle will result in the same crowded experience in our national parks. Development of fully serviced campgrounds and additional lodging(motels) followed no doubt by paved highways is not in the long term local Albertan’s interest. Currently in Southern Alberta this area or if you look North of the Crownsnest, the Oldman or Racehorse there is a small area that is not a park. There is no doubt in my mind that the next area the government attacks will be the Oldman, Racehorse drainage. I only see a government blinded by their misguided green agenda and so entirely bent out of shape in their quest to make crown lands parks and the Yellowstone to Yukon corridor a reality. Do you think Albertans will breathe a sigh of relief with this park? None of our grandchildren will ever likely experience middle Kootenay pass unless they carry their kids on their backs 30 plus kilometers. If we have maxed out the potential in Banff, Waterton and Jasper why not promote tourism in Wood buffalo National Park as it is under visited and has huge potential. Maybe Elk Island could handle some more tourism dollars. Alberta family’s will be hard pressed to camp in the Castle without random camping. Camping reservations where demand will be higher than supply will force campers North of the Crowsnest and the Castle will become a tourist destination. Another Waterton, Banff and Jasper in the making. The Notley N.D.P. government with Shannon Philips(eco freak activist) at the helm of environment has made their decision for the Castle. After letting the horse out of the barn and paddlelocking the gate they will now allow public discussion for needed input. What a farce. Is there really a choice between residents and tourists?

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