Sunday, September 4, 2011 | Categories: Episodes
When you drive through the gates of Canada's oldest national park, past the series of wooden, alpine style huts where uniformed attendants take your money and hand you a brochure about bears, you enter an area of nearly 7,000 square kilometres of breathtaking mountains and braided rivers, sprawling glaciers and descending valleys, alpine passes, hoodoos and hidden hot pools.
From cars and campers lumbering along the TransCanada, kids stare out windows into the woods, and wonder what wild animals could be staring back.
As a grown-up, no matter how times you've made the trip, it still feels good to be here, in Banff. This is, after all, where it all began.
It was Sir John A. Macdonald's idea back in 1885, settling a conflict over the ownership of the Cave and Basin Hot Springs by declaring it a public park.
Ever since that day, Banff -- and the parks across the country to follow -- have been shaped by the tension between preservation and development.
A hundred years ago Parks Canada was born, the world's first national park service, with a mandate to manage that tension. Today it oversees 42 national parks, 167 national historic sites, and four national marine conservation areas. It's one of the most extensive networks of protected sites in the world. It's an ongoing legacy for which Canadians are justifiably proud.
But talk to insiders, and they'll tell you our parks are generally understaffed, mostly under-utilized by the bulk of Canadians, and vulnerable to development pressures in high-traffic areas.
Looking out the picture window in front of me here at the Banff Centre, where we are set up on a glorious blue sky mountain day, it seems a good time to ask. What do Canada's National Parks mean to you?
I'm David Gray ...on CBC Radio One ...and on Sirius satellite radio channel 159 ...this is Cross Country Checkup.
It is extremely important for Canada's national parks to maintain a good balance between these two functions. Tourism must not be stopped for conservation, but conservation efforts must not be thwarted to facilitate tourism. Some parks have off-limit areas to create no- or low-impact areas and offset the effects of tourism in more sensitive areas. Such strategies should be used to ensure that Canadians and tourists to Canada can continue to benefit from national parks in the face of growing commercial, industrial, and environmental challenges.
Melena Porras Pena
I do not support clear cuts, mining, or any removal of natural resources in our parks of any kind. I do not want to see any motorized vehicles within most of the parks, unless they are search and rescue vehicles. In the north, they may be needed to go from one destination to another, but this needs to be limited.
I would like to see more of our land protected for future generations of both humans and animals, because if we don't save the land, its gone for good. I understand that this means jobs, but look what we have done with the fishing industry when we kept saying we need to keep the jobs. Now much of the past fishing industry is gone. We do not manage the removal of natural resources well, we consume until nothing is left and I don't want to be known as the generation that depleted the planet of much of its resources.
North Bay, Ontario
It is my hope that Parks Canada can step out of the weaker path of commercialization and consumerism and into the bigger picture, more challenging view of protection of the planet. My belief is that Parks Canada should focus on protecting ecological integrity and providing experiences to people that will increase their appreciation for nature and ecology. I am definitley a big believer in limiting commercial development (other parts of the country are taking care of that piece) and focusing on minimizing the human impact on park ecosystems.
Respectfully yours in nature,
Although I have had only the privilege of visiting our Ontario provincial parks, my personal experience has been that backcountry campers are far more respectful of ecosystems as their thinking tends to be consciously biocentric. Whereby those who choose the groomed sites, as well as the gentrified trails, tend to see it as extensions of city life and are far less careful in leaving no trace. Essentially, more humans, just by the numbers, equates to more garbage and ecosystem destruction.
Speaking about the parks in the Rockies, where we live, I see absolute chaos in the systems of parks staff from the superintendents down to the guys and gals on the front line of the public. Speaking with friends (who work) in parks, I hear about how numerous supervisors have closed minds to positive suggestions. I have seen personally numerous instances of one-track, don't look at alternative methodologies to accomplish goals. I have seen so many times that I cannot count staff making excuses for not doing something as basic as keeping the trails of Kooteny and Yoho and at times, Banff National Parks safe. Yes, safe.
I have to assume, given the conditions of the trails, that staff and supers have not done trail maintenance for about 25 years given the pathetic condition of the trails. Many are deteriorated to the point of being dangerous. Take one of the worst instances, the Kindersley Trail in KNP. There are places on that trail that are so overgrown a person has trouble seeing the trail surface. Many, many places on Kindersley and others where the mandated width of these trails has deteriorated to one-and-a-half feet wide rather than the three-foot wide specifications. Three of the top 400 metres of the Kindersley Trail has deteriorated to the point that there is no difference between the 60% side slope and the trail itself, and the drop off is over 400 metres down the mountain.
The condition of the highways in KNP is close to third-world country standards, and these are the park's responsibility, not the province's. And then look at their systems of management and their need to perpetuate incompetence.
Parks are a broken entity in this region I am afraid. Establish more parks in Canada? No, as park staff cannot seem to manage what they have right now. The public would love to see more wilderness, but staff seem to have a bias against having people use the back country trails, use anything other than road side amenities in parks. Since park staff cannot maintain the assets which they are entrusted to manage, why on earth would anyone contemplate increasing the number of parks? They are not managing what they have now.
All of the above being said, the geography is spectacular and the history is long standing in parks. However, I dispair about the management and the net results in the parks of the Rockies.
Radium Hot Springs, British Columbia
This is clear enough to many who love our parks. However, striking the balance between intensive human presence and ecological integrity is not easy. If we were to make it too difficult for people to interact meaningfully with the nature in those parks, we would do a great disservce to the long term future of all of our green spaces everywhere (not just in oparks). People, especially young people, need the opportunity to be immersed in nature to discover its wonder. Cruising through a park on a highway is something wonderful to see out the window, but it is nowhere near the same as standing next to a mountain waterfall, or watching and listening to the tall grass prairie grassess undulate in the wind. However, every ecosystem has its tolerance level for mass human interaction, and the right green-centric balance needs to be struck.
My family once visited a State Park in Arizona named Kartchner Caverns. The story behind it is amazing and warms the heart of any lover of natural spaces. It is a massive cave system that, unlike most caves that had been discovered many decadeds ago and therefore badly damaged by unregulated or poorly regulated visitiors, was only discovered in the 1970s. Its two discoverers were true naturalists and managed to fundraise and purchase the private land above the cave entrance, while keeping its existence a secret until the state government finally agreed to legislate it's protection.
Now, the rule in visiting the cave is that, since the stalactites and stalagmites, that grow over thousands of years in caves, can apparently have their growth stunted simply by the body oils left behind by the touch of a human finger, visitors are taken on guided tours only, and must not touch anything outside the rock curbs the State has carefully built to enclose a narrow path.
The only footprints visible in some soft mud of this magically unspoiled treasure are the twin footsteps of the two naturalists who discovered it. The footprints are still visible as if they were made the day you see them. It was an unbelievable ecological experience to see that place, and to realize it will remain unspoiled.
Our challenge is to find that balance for each ecosystem we protect in our parks. I think Canadian nature author Sid Marty has it right: We can love our parks to death if we are not careful, but must allow and encourage people to learn to love them in ways that don't diminish them for future Canadians.
We need to protect areas before they are gone forever to mining, logging, development, roads, and more. Not enough areas are made into parks and protected from development. We need more vision and leadership to inspire Canadians to have the largest parks on Earth, protected for countless generations.
Victoria, British Columbia
For me, national parks means that I've had the most interesting and satisfying summer job that I could imagine. These have been the most amazing, intersting, unique and satisfying times of my life. The diversity and immensity of natural and cultural landscapes is the draw. And the changes taking place. To see the changes in the melting glaciers and the northern coast ice shelves in the last decade is a real eye opener.
It is a super remote area, hard to get there (it is 2000 km north of Iqaluit and We are closer to many capitals in Europe than we are to Ottawa). But maybe because of this there is a real intimacy and comraderie with the hikers and researchers that make the effort to get up there. For me, the people that I have met up there has been so interesting. While it is one of the most remote parts of Canada that is under Parks Canada stewardship, at least for the summer months, it's where I live and work, and I hope to have many more seasons up there.
Cambridge Bay, Nunavut
Balfour, British Columbia
I will not pay the exorbitant day charges to drive to Banff for an overnight, or to join a dozen friends for brunch or to visit the (sadly now defunct) Book and Art Den. I have not made any of the 20-or-so trips a year that I would regularly make before the fees took a huge jump. It's been perhaps 20 years since I have set foot in Banff. Now, like many of my friends, I simply drive through the park without stopping.
Thanks for doing this show,
Vancouver, British Columbia
Great show, and I appreciate the discussion about our wilderness parks. However, I'm interested in hearing about what has happened to Downsview national park. This project appears to have completely stalled, even backtracked. I remember a decade ago promises of an urban forest and trees being planted. Where are they now? It looks like they were removed. From most of the surrounding streets, the park looks like it has ceded to even more industrial development. The reuse of old buildings as recreational facilities is great, and Bombardier's operations that were spared are a great employer. But why do I see even more commercial development? This bleak wasteland really needed the promise of a great park and retreat for Torontonians. What happened?
What has happened is a shift away from servicing the actual on-the-ground facilities to using staff for administrative things that the average visitor will never see. Two decades ago, I would often meet wardens and trail crews while hiking. In my last five years of intensive use of trails within the national parks, I have not met one park employee while on the trails.
Victoria, British Columbia
The time we spend hiking in our national parks keeps us learning about our environment and natural surroundings, keeps us active, and is one of the best forms of rest and relaxation that I've ever discovered (my blackberry rarely works by our campsites).
Our parks are an invaluable natural resource that must be preserved for future generations. Given the reduced numbers of Canadians who are using our parks these days, I applaud and support efforts to promote them to new Canadians, younger Canadians who didn't grow up using them, and other urban dwellers who don't frequent them.
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Vancouver, British Columbia
I've lived in a national park. I was a councillor for three terms in a town with a national historic park and I now represent all B.C. parks staff. Parks spending is at a low. We need to consider parks spending as an investment, for every dollar spent returns (approximately) ten dollars.
Fort St. James, British Columbia
Canada's national parks, for me at least, are important in that they are large acreages of untouched, carbon sequestering trees. There are so many countries that let deforestation go unchecked, that having these areas that are relatively untouched by humans is a good thing. It's a necessity!
Humans aren't the only creatures on this planet, and so many don't realize that. The fact that the parks aren't too accessible to most people is a good thing. Not only does it keep our natural forests in place, it also allows evolution to carry on unencumbered. Commercial developments shouldn't be built to increase tourism to these areas. They need to remain natural, before we industrialize too much land, and wind up polluting so much land that nature can't recover. So many nations have done that already.
Preserving nature should be more important than growth and profits. Continuous growth on a finite planet, on a finite amount of land isn't only a bad idea, it's actually impossible. If we keep up the mindset that growth is good, eventually there will be one human per square meter and there won't be nearly enough airable land to feed them all, let alone to sustain natural ecosystems. The world isn't ours to exploit. It's ours to live on.
In conclusion, I hope that we end up having more national parks, more preserved natural areas, rather than fewer.
R. Michael, Gorski
Fort St. John, British Columbia
From some of the data you cited earlier a concern I have is that Parks Canada must engage young Canadians to generate interest.
Through education, one possibility is the vast layers of information that can be organized and examined through GIS (Geographic Information Systems). The analysis element of GIS can push students to develop a deeper understanding of our parks system, understand the importance of the national parks and then young Canadians can work in their classes to determine how to protect the integrity of these ecosystems. Of course, there are countless ways to incorporate aspects of our national parks in the classroom.
I realize that national parks are a federal responsibility and the federal government is not responsible for education, but if we value our parks I believe educational initiatives are essential to the future ecological integrity of these areas. Having explored many of these parks I am always struck by the educational opportunities that exist and connections to curricula are numerous.
This year, we spent five weeks on the road, camping across Canada from Calgary to St. John's and back. We stayed in national, provincial, and private camp grounds in each province, and because we bought the very inexpensive Canada Park Pass for about $140, we could explore any of the parks as well as any of the national heritage sites across Canada for a real deal. That pass saves a pile of money if you do decide to camp.
The national parks system is handily the cheapest option available for campers in Canada. While the provincial parks systems are also very good, we have always found that the national parks have been most excellent. They are consistently far over half as expensive as most private campgrounds with more amenities, and unlike municipal parks, they are kept and run with a degree of vigilance against drunkenness and noise. We are firm supporters of Canada's national parks, and we hope that nothing ever is done to privatize or sell off Canada's parks.
I like knowing that while I am at work in an urban centre, significant portions of the ecosystem are being set aside for now and future generations, to be unadulterated by resource extraction, and to set an example for the way in which we should be treating all of the land in Canada. I would not want to ever see Canada lose its mandate of preserving and protecting natural spaces.
And then there's the gut level, that usually says more and maybe that comes in the form of awe. Of stars that come at you out of nowhere on a clear night, and you know you're never alone. Of the soft landing and pur of wings before that, as a duck lands in front of the kayak on a morning full of water and trees and no other sounds. Of watching a grandchild running under spruces where the words IPD and iPad are not even spellable. I guess that's the point - they are worth some work and effort because they give more than they take.