New Brunswick

Mount Carleton snowmobile plan concerns persist

Roberta Clowater is still hoping she can change the provincial government's mind about the future of Mount Carleton Provincial Park.

Wilderness society still pushing for province to change course on allowing snowmobiles on mountainside

Mount Carleton Provincial Park could become a snowmobiling hub under a proposal being pursued by the provincial government. (Tourism New Brunswick)

A parks advocate is still hoping she can change the provincial government's mind about the future of Mount Carleton Provincial Park.

Roberta Clowater, the executive director of the New Brunswick office of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, said the provincial government still seems determined to turn the province's highest peak into a hub for snowmobiling.

Last summer, the provincial government announced plans to turn its only wilderness park — Mount Carleton — into a major development for snowmobilers.

It envisions building a fueling station and opening up 343 kilometres of trails, including a major trail up the side of the mountain.

Clowater met with tourism officials a little more than two weeks ago to get an update on the controversial proposal and says it appears nothing has changed.

Plans haven't changed

"Well the latest story from the department appears to be they still plan to go ahead with all of the snowmobile trail development plans they had last year," Clowater said.

"They haven't changed their plans much in any way."

Roberta Clowater, the executive director of the New Brunswick chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, says it doesn't appear the government has veered from its plan to make Mount Carleton Provincial Park a snowmobiling hub. (CBC)
Clowater said she can't believe it.

"No other jurisdiction would consider tampering with something so iconic," she said.

"Mount Carleton is not only the highest peak in the New Brunswick, it's the highest peak in the Maritimes. And you know the heritage and the cultural value that people attach to that mountain."

No other jurisdiction would consider tampering with something so iconic.- Roberta Clowater, executive director CPAWS in N.B.

Clowater said it's difficult to conceive of any wilderness mountain park that would allow snowmobiles to travel up the sides of mountains She says most wouldn't.

"Certainly it doesn't happen in Baxter State Park [in Maine] right next to us," she said.

"And they have an iconic park that gets tens of thousands of visitors every year, so if we really want to be in the tourism game — the wilderness tourism game — we need to be thinking about what that means and how we market the park."

Clowater said the province is making some overtures about protecting the environment during any development work. It's promising, among other things, to do some rare plant surveys along the sides of the trails where clearing or building is planned, just to make sure any rare plant sites won't be disturbed.

"But otherwise it feels like they're on the same track they were before," she said.

"They are still quite committed to allowing snowmobiles up the side of Mount Carleton."

Legal challenge

Meanwhile, the province is also facing a legal challenge to its Mount Carleton plan.

The provincial and federal governments announced 343 kilometres of new trails for northwestern New Brunswick in July 2015. (CBC)
The Maliseet Grand Council and the group Friends of Mount Carleton are asking for a judicial review of the proposal.

They contend the province can't proceed with the snowmobile development without having a park management plan in place, which they say is required under legislation.

They also say the snowmobile hub shouldn't be allowed without conducting a full environmental impact assessment.  Neither of those has been completed.

A judicial hearing is scheduled for late June.

Artifacts found

Meanwhile, information obtained about the proposal filed under the Right to Information Act by CBC News reveal a number of undisclosed concerns about the site and its suitability for a snowmobile development, including archeological finds.

"Restrict the disturbance in both locations," is the recommendation of archeologists after discovering artifacts around both Bathurst Lake and Moose Brook in Mount Carleton Park, according to one report.

The artifacts "are likely" between 1,800 and 2,300 years old, according to the report.

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