Meewasin Valley Authority to close interpretive centre

The Meewasin Valley Authority has announced it plans to close its interpretive centre July 1st.

CEO Lloyd Isaak says the centre will close July 1st

The Meewasin Valley Authority manages trails along Spadina Crescent E. in Saskatoon. (CBC News)

The Meewasin Valley Authority has announced it will close its interpretive centre July 1st.

CEO Lloyd Isaak said that no increase in funding meant the conservation organization was going to have to scale back. Three full-time jobs will be lost.

In the provincial budget, the provincial government cut $540,000 in funding to five urban parks in Saskatchewan. While those cuts didn't fall on Meewasin and Regina's Wascana Park, Mark Docherty, the Minister of Parks, Culture and Sport, said they were reviewing the funding models to those major parks and everything was on the table.

Lloyd Isaak, CEO of the Meewasin Valley Autority and Toddi Steelman, Chair of the MVA Board of Directors. (Eric Anderson/CBC)

"His subsequent comments signals to us that they're planning to pull the funding for Meewasin," said Isaak. "There's no other way to interpret that."

Isaak said the board is already looking towards how the organization can remain fiscally sound.

"We're going to be working with our board and our stakeholders to determine how to position Meewasin so that we have fiscal stability in the future," he said. "But pulling out the provincial funding would have profound impacts on Meewasin as we know it."

The main floor of the centre will remain open for administrative offices.The MVA interpretive centre has had direct contact with more than 400,000 visitors since it opened in February of 1988. That includes 70,000 Grade 3 students as part of a social studies program. 

Isaak said Meewasin has raised the issue of underfunding for years. However, the MVA's funding has remained frozen for the past 30 years.

"I've expressed many times to the media and this community that without a change, there will be consequences to Meewasin," he said.

The MVA believes that it will need increased fundraising to put on extra events.

"Meewasin has enjoyed and benefited from enormous public support–individual support and support from organizations and businesses. We need that now."

Saskatoon Mayor Don Atchison attended the press conference. He noted the City of Saskatoon has increased its funding to the MVA in the past two years.

"Well, certainly disappointing in that the centre itself is closing, but the MVA trails and everything else are still going ahead as we always have."

The provincial government pays $909,000 toward the MVA, which makes up approximately 20 per cent of the park's annual budget. The City of Saskatoon, the University of Saskatchewan and donations cover the rest of the statutory funding. In 2015, the park's budget was $4.5 million, including the additional $2 million raised by Meewasin.

In comparison, Regina's Wascana Centre receives $3.6 million from the provincial government. That accounts for 39 per cent of the park's annual budget. 

The organization is responsible for the river valley trails in Saskatoon as well as the Beaver Creek Conservation Area and Interpretative Centre, where it runs hiking tours and education programs for school children. Recently it has taken over conservation responsibilities for the northeast swale river channel just outside of Saskatoon.

The loss of three jobs at the interpretive centre reduces the overall number of interpretive staff from eight to five. The interpretive centre requires $250,000 annually to operate its programs.

With files from Francois Biber and Eric Anderson


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