The Current

Environmental group rejects proposed bike path through Jasper National Park

A proposed paved bike path through the Icefields Parkway will have harmful environmental consequences, says Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.
A proposed Icefields bike pathway that would cut through Jasper National Park is meeting resistance from environmentalists concerned this project will harm wildlife. (Parks Canada/Jasper National Park)

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The federal government is reviewing a plan to pave a path along one of Canada's most iconic highways. But the proposed bike trail is being met with opposition from an unlikely source — environmentalists.

Parks Canada is considering building the bike path from Jasper to Lake Louise, along the Icefields Parkway or Highway 93.

While some feel this path will encourage cycling, Alison Ronson, executive director in Northern Alberta for the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), worries the project could result in harming the environment.

Ronson says her first concern regarding the bike path is it's been developed with a "non-transparent process."

She tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti that when the proposed bike path was announced in the 2016 federal budget, there was no information — just a single line item.
The Canadian flag flies over the Columbia Icefields' Athabasca Glacier in Jasper National Park. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)

For those who have never driven along the Icefields Parkway, it stretches from the town of Jasper down to Banff and Lake Louise through the Rocky Mountains.

"You go through alpine areas valleys, past the Columbia Icefields which is full of glaciers — basically seeing the most beautiful scenery you've probably ever seen," Ronson describes.

There's a total of around 230 kilometres of paved roadway and three metre-wide paved trail from Jasper down to Lake Louise.

"It's going to cost Canadian taxpayers a tremendous amount of money — about $160 million, and it will have significant consequences on nature and the parks," Ronson says.

She points to a significant portion of the trail — about seven kilometres in the northern part — where it would have to deviate into designated wilderness  

"And these are parts of the park where the minister has formally declared that the natural character of these areas is very important and should remain wilderness for all time."

A view of Two Jack Lake in Banff National Park. Parks Canada documents show the proposed trail down the Icefields Parkway between Banff and Jasper raises a host of complications, from damage to wildlife habitat to safety concerns and increased development pressure. Travel Alberta/Canadian Press (Travel Alberta/Canadian Press)

Ronson says the Icefields Parkway trail would go right through the habitat of species that are listed under the Species at Risk Act.

"But [the path] also goes through really important grizzly bear habitat, and grizzlies are listed as threatened under Alberta's wildlife act."

Mike Day, a past chair and board member of The Association for Mountain Parks Protection and Enjoyment has confidence in Park Canada as an environmental organization.

"There is no way that we, as an organization, would support anything that is negatively going to impact the environment or harm animals in any way," Day says.

But Ronson argues as a park's watchdog for 50 years, her organization has encountered many examples of Parks Canada not adhering to its first mandate — "which is to put nature forward."

The recent approval of a massive expansion of the Lake Louise ski resort right through designated wilderness and grizzly bear habitat is a prime example, says Ronson.

"They also approved the Glacier Skywalk despite the fact that the environmental assessment showed it would have negative impacts on mountain goats."

Moving forward, Ronson hopes that there will still be an opportunity to develop better plans.

"We actually believe there are other options that could have been explored that would have been better for Canadians both in and outside of the parks."

Listen to the full segment at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by Calgary network producer Michael O'Halloran.

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