The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society is raising concerns about the effect on animals and erosion that a proposal to expand a snowmobile trail on Mount Carleton could have at the provincial park.
Roberta Clowater, the executive director of the society's New Brunswick chapter, said she heard about the plan to build a snowmobile trail on the side of the mountain informally from the snowmobile federation during a meeting this summer.
Clowater said a utility trail up the mountain is going to be doubled in width to about 3.5 metres.
And the canopy will have to be removed to at least that height in order for a grooming machine to pass on the snow.
"It feels like it is a big change to the natural environment there, it is going to be a big change for people who want to hike on that trail during the reason of the seasons or even in the winter," Clowater said.
"But it is most disturbing that it is being done without the public really know what is going on."
Clowater said she is concerned that the public hasn't had a say in the proposed trail and there isn't even a plan or a document that can be shared to discussion the project so people can evaluate it.
"That is what we are quite concerned about especially when we learned the development process would be happening this fall, yet none of the groups that care about parks or have an interest in what happens with Mount Carleton or other provincial parks had heard about it up until now," Clowater said.
"And if by accident I hadn't heard about it, I'm not sure any of us still would have known."
Tourism minister agrees to meeting
The wilderness advocate said she's shared her concerns with Tourism Minister Bill Fraser. She said she plans to meet the tourism minister to discuss the proposal at the park.
Fraser said on Friday the department should have been more "proactive" in letting groups know about the proposal. But he also said the project has been discussed in public in the past.
"These were discussions that had been ongoing for a couple of years and when I came into the role, we were at the end of getting this project in place," he said.
"This is a good project for the region and for hte northern part of the province."
The tourism minister said the trail is not new but it is building upon an existing utility road on the side of the mountain.
Clowater said she hopes to convince Fraser to put the brakes on the snowmobile trail.
She said as far as she knows there's been no environmental assessment and the changes could have an impact on wildlife, such as flying squirrels and American marten, and could lead to erosion problems.
"We are recommending the government take a step back and not proceed with this particular trail up the side of Mount Carleton and they do the required work to figure out what this would mean, investigate what the impacts might mean for erosion and for wildlife and also for conflicts with wilderness users," she said.
The society's executive director said there are other areas in the park that are appropriate for snowmobile use but not in the spot identified by the proposal.
In July, the provincial and federal governments announced a new snowmobile fueling station and 343 kilometres of new trails for northwestern New Brunswick.
The tourism minister said the new grooming hub will also extend the snowmobiling season in northern New Brunswick by several weeks.
"This strategic infrastructure will grow our tourism sector and advance the sport of snowmobiling in northern New Brunswick," Fraser said in a statement in July.