Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Winter Access, Services Put on Ice at National Parks across the Country

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Winter Access, Services Put on Ice at National Parks across the Country

Article excerpt

Winter services frozen at many national parks

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OTTAWA - Several of Canada's national parks, long celebrated by the federal government as an "integral part of the Canadian identity," have shut down winter services because of budget cuts.

The move, which followed a $29.2-million funding reduction, has forced some rural communities to do their own snow clearing with Parks Canada machines in order to continue participating in activities and attracting tourists.

In contrast to the winter parks cuts, meanwhile, the government has announced $3.9 million in grants over the past two years to help snowmobile clubs in Quebec buy new trail-grooming equipment and boost local tourism.

Affected national parks include Point Pelee in southern Ontario, Riding Mountain in Manitoba, Prince Albert in Saskatchewan and Elk Island in Alberta. The parks are technically open, but access points and trails are unplowed, visitor centres closed, and emergency services sparse.

In Forillon National park in Quebec's Gaspe region, Parks Canada agreed this week to allow the local municipality and province pay for workers to operate the machines. Just 14 months ago, the federal government contributed $115,000 to a major cross-country ski event, La Grande Traversee de la Gaspesie, which uses the park's trails.

At Kejimkujik in Nova Scotia, the only entrance into the park was barricaded in the fall, with the parking lot and roads left unplowed. The visitor centre was closed at Thanksgiving, and won't reopen until Victoria Day weekend.

Parks Canada had introduced popular back-country winter camping in the park with semi-permanent huts called yurts last year, but that project appears to have been abandoned.

"Basically, you can't get into the park unless you walk a long way. As far as most people are concerned, once that barricade goes up, the park is useless," said Colin Mudle, a retired telecom technician who hikes in the park several times a week during the winter.

Parks Canada said budget constraints forced them to evaluate how much the parks were actually being used during the off-season. He said some people like the concept of the park being open in the winter, but don't actually use it.

"What are the services that people are asking us to give, how many are actually participating in it, and then we have a decision to make," said Andrew Campbell, vice-president of visitor experience.

"Does this actually make sense to spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on a service that is offered to a couple of hundred people?"

But Nancy Wood-Archer, owner of the Hawood Inn inside of Prince Albert National Park, disagrees with the characterization of the parks as poorly used during the winter.

"The three year-round businesses in our community are all owned and run by Saskatchewan families," said Wood-Archer. …

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