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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.