By Schnarr, J.W. on January 13, 2018.
Parks Canada has unveiled its design for a controversial planned visitors’ centre in Waterton Lakes National Park.
The Town Plaza (Concept #3) design option was selected for the new Waterton Lakes visitor centre following public consultations, a community open house and the careful review and consideration of three design options.
The design features a central plaza which will complement the beautiful setting of the community of Waterton.
It is hoped the main plaza will become a vibrant part of Waterton’s commercial district. It will include an outdoor theatre to provide a gathering space for engagement with visitors and the community.
Critics of the decision to move the centre to town cite additional traffic and a loss of an important community green space as factors in their opposition.
The goal for the new visitor centre is to provide Parks Canada with opportunities to connect directly and more frequently with the greatest number of visitors, enable enhanced visitor experiences, and offer a full range of interpretive programing.
Parks Canada is also working with Indigenous partners to develop interpretive material for the new visitor centre that reflects Blackfoot history, traditions, culture and contributions to Waterton Lakes National Park.
In addition, the Town Plaza design will provide a new “nature-based” playground for families with children. The existing playground and splash park will be relocated to Block 42 – School Site on Waterton Park Community Association leasehold land, as per the agreement in principle with the association and Improvement District #4.
The new Waterton visitor centre will welcome Canadians and visitors from around the world, providing them with opportunities to learn about the park’s cultural and environmental significance.
Waterton Lakes National Park is part of a World Heritage Site, and together with Glacier National Park, U.S.A., it forms the world’s first International Peace Park and International Dark Sky Park.
More than 500,000 people visit Waterton Lakes National Park each year.
Parks Canada visitor centres are a primary service offered to properly welcome and orient people visiting national parks.
They serve as a central location for important visitor information, such as appropriate camping and hiking practices and wildlife viewing behaviour, and recreational opportunities in the park.
Following the loss of the former visitor centre in the Kenow wildfire last September, visitors can obtain information from Parks Canada staff at the Waterton Lakes Operations Building’s front desk.
Over five years, Parks Canada is investing $3 billion to support infrastructure work in visitor, heritage, waterway and highway assets across the country. Waterton Lakes National Park is receiving approximately $100 million to ensure the quality and reliability of visitor facilities so Canadians can continue to connect with nature and learn about local heritage.
Parks Canada is working with stakeholders, First Nations partners, community members and interested Canadians in the next steps of the project.
Construction of the new centre is expected to begin in 2019 with an expected opening in 2021.
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