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New Jasper, Lake Louise & Columbia Icefield Trail Extensions Through Grizzly Bear Habitat Dubbed Meals on Wheels

by Ben Andrew

May 04, 2017 (Jasper, AB) – Parks Canada is reportedly beginning to enter the planning stages of an extension to the paved Icefields Trail in Jasper National Park. The extension, which would extend the trail south to Lake Louise, comes on the heels of a public feedback survey by Parks Canada for a proposed $87 million paved bike trail extension to the path system north from Jasper to the Columbia Icefield.

 ©  Jasper National Park
Steve Young, a spokesman for Jasper National Park spoke to reporters from Rocky Mountain Outlook, suggesting “In order to maximize savings and achieve efficiencies that may exist, consultations for the Icefields Trail South would build on consultations for the Icefields Trail North.”

While the planned Northern extension looks to be on track, being included in the federal government’s 2017 budget, Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna will make the final decision based on public feedback and the results of an environmental assessment. The federal budget allocated $65.9 million to the Columbia Icefield extension, with Parks Canada picking up the remaining $20.5 million of costs.

 ©  Jasper National Park
Banff Park Lodge hosted a public open house on Friday, March 17th at 7pm on the proposal to build the 109km paved trail from Jasper to the Columbia Icefield and Wilcox Campground.

The proposal has been met so far with mixed support. Bow Valley Naturalists (BVN) has serious concerns with the proposal, saying while cycling is a carbon-friendly way for visitors to enjoy the park, a new trail built 20 to 30 metres away from the road in a grizzly bear habitat is not the way to do it.

Most of the trail would go through an outdoor recreation zone that covers about 100 metres either side of the highway, but about seven kilometres would run through declared wilderness along an abandoned road near Beauty Flats to avoid wetlands.

 ©  Jasper National Park
BVN says widening the shoulder of the road would be better for cyclists than what’s existing, provide better views, increase bear and rider safety, be significantly cheaper to build, and, from an ecological perspective, reduce the amount of critical valley bottom habitat lost.

“An easy solution would be to widen the shoulder,” said Reg Bunyan, a member of BVN’s board of directors and a retired resource conservation officer with Parks. “I bet $87 million could go all the way to Lake Louise.”

BVN believes there is potential for bears and human safety to be compromised, noting riders will be cycling through “bear central” – dubbed by some as “meals on wheels”. The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) also is critical of the plan, saying it will divide and destroy important grizzly and caribou habitat, as well as displace other wildlife.

 ©  Jasper National Park
“This proposal is inconsistent with the federal government’s stated commitment to limit development in our national parks, and their legal obligation to put ecological integrity first in all aspects of park management. It is also contrary to Parks Canada’s obligations to protect species at risk in the park,” said CPAWS executive director Alison Ronson while speaking to the Calgary Herald.

The Association for Mountain Parks Protection and Enjoyment (AMPPE) support the extensions for the Icefield Trail system. Casey Peirce, AMPPE’s executive director, said that it would be a safe and accessible way for people and families and other users to enjoy Jasper National Park without the use of a vehicle.

 ©  Jasper National Park
Speaking to the CBC, Yellowhead Conservative MP Jim Eglinski voiced his support for the project, specifically the proposed Lake Louise project. “I think this is going to be great for Jasper Park,” he said, “It’s something that is needed and it’s going to be good for the surrounding communities, it’s going to be good for Alberta, good for Canada.”

Eglinski also noted the 14 million people who viewed the Tour of Alberta last year. Based on these numbers, he expects the trail would draw tourists and cyclists from all corners of the world. Eglinski did criticize the Liberal federal budget amount set aside for the project, suggesting the price tag was a bit steep.

Rocky Mountain Outlook here.
Calgary Herald here.
CBC.ca here.

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