Plan to build more lodges in provincial parks raises concerns – doc.

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2005

B.C. residents ‘attach high values to their public parks,’ a report says

Bruce Constantineau

A B.C. government plan to build more lodges in provincial parks will significantly expand commercial development within park boundaries without public consultation, according to a report from concerned public service employees.

“British Columbians have strong emotional ties and attach high values to their public parks,” said the report from Public Service Employees for Environmental Ethics.

PSE, a group of past and present government employees, uses internal government documents — including ministerial briefing notes — to support its claims.

The B.C. Parks Lodge Strategy won’t be approved until late this year or early 2006, but the report says actions to promote the commercialization of B.C. parks are already well advanced.

A treasury board submission last year from three ministries — small business, sustainable resource development and water, land and air protection — said the province wanted to identify 10 new park lodge sites and issue proposal calls on the development opportunities before the end of the 2005-06 fiscal year.

The submission estimated that total investment in new lodges and existing lodge upgrades would amount to $35 million over the next three to five years.

But Water, Land and Air Protection Minister Bill Barisoff said those numbers are optimistic.

“If we were fortunate enough to get four or five of these [potential new lodge sites] identified in the next year or so, that would be great,” he said in an interview.

Barisoff said annual visits to B.C. parks have declined since 1998, when they attracted a record 26.5 million visitors, so a major thrust of the park lodge strategy is to increase visitation and make the parks accessible to more people.

“Lodges can give more of an opportunity to more of our seniors’ population and people with families to access our parks, without having to sleep in tents,” he said.

Barisoff noted several provincial parks already have lodges — including Manning, Tweedsmuir and Mount Assiniboine parks — and said any new lodge developments would have to be appropriate for the surroundings.

A November 2004 ministerial briefing note said the province had received eight written or verbal expressions of interest in building “lodge-type developments” in various B.C. parks.

Barisoff said he recalled only one — an Alpine Club of Canada proposal to build a 30-person hostel-style “eco-lodge” on the Berg Lake Trail in Mount Robson Park.

But the briefing note listed seven others, including:

– An Intrawest Corp. plan to build a series of huts along Spearhead Traverse, between Whistler and Blackcomb mountains in Garibaldi Park.

– A proposal to build a floating lodge to support kayak use in Broughton Archipelago.

– A lodge development that borders the ski area in Mount Assiniboine Park.

– An angling guide proposal to build a fixed-roof operation in Hamber Park.

Small Business and Economic Development Minister John Les said what’s considered an acceptable type of lodge development will vary throughout the B.C. park system.

“There are places where only the most rustic type of development would be appropriate,” he said. “But there are other locations, maybe not within a park but close to a park, where something much more sophisticated would be in order, including something quite commercial in nature.”

© The Vancouver Sun 2005

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