Private Developers Invited Into 12 British Columbia Parks

VANCOUVER, British Columbia, Canada, July 28, 2006 (ENS) - The British Columbia government is moving ahead with its plan to permit privately funded roofed accommodations in provincial parks, including lodges and resorts.

BC Environment Minister Barry Penner launched the Park Lodge Strategy by announcing that he will be issuing requests for proposals for the development of roofed accommodations in 12 parks. The parks that will be developed include Golden Ears about 50 kilometers (30 miles) east of Vancouver, Mount Assiniboine in the Rocky Mountains, and Wells Grey in the Cariboo Mountains of the central interior.

"British Columbia is bringing in a new policy aimed at encouraging a broader range of British Columbians and tourists to enjoy our world-class parks system as we get closer to 2010," said Penner. "Changing demographics and expectations require us to look for ways of providing park visitors with a wider range of options."

Penner

Environment Minister Barry Penner overlooks the Shuswap River Valley from the heights of Enderby Cliffs Provincial Park. This park is not on the list for development. (Photo courtesy Office of the Minister)
The strategy is controversial because it allows private development for profit within park boundaries and lacks tools to limit expansion of private facilities.

"Eighty-seven percent of BC is already open for business. The 13 percent that is set aside for protection should be off limits to private development," said Gwen Barlee, policy director for the Western Canada Wilderness Committee, the largest membership based conservation organization in the province.

Critics object that the provincial government will allow foreign multinational corporations to develop in British Columbia parks. They say noisy helicopter and float plane traffic will be increased as a result, disturbing the peace of the natural settings.

"Private resorts and lodges should not be located within protected areas, they should be situated on the perimeters of parks where they benefit local communities while still allowing people easy access to the park," Barlee said.

Facilities and their associated operations must be appropriate to the park setting, and also be in accordance with park values and park management plans, according to the province's strategy.

Wells Gray

Mountain and wildflowers in Wells Gray Provincial Park, which is on the list for development. (Photo courtesy BC Parks)
Park accommodations proposals will be subject to competitive bidding and evaluation, impact assessment studies, and public and First Nations consultation, Penner said.

But critics say the strategy has proceeded thus far without public consultation.

Freedom of information documents obtained from the provincial government by the Wilderness Committee show that the BC Park Lodge Strategy also includes provisions for "major resorts" within park boundaries.

According to the government documents resorts of this scale typically "include pools, tennis courts, ski hills and/or golf courses." The documents also refer to "high end" facilities with up to 100 beds and staff housing.

"When you start managing protected areas for an economic bottom line you stop managing them for an ecological bottom line," said Barlee. "What happens when guests at a resort in a park want to ride snowmobiles or ATVís in the park? This is a slippery slope towards dismantling our protected area system: parks were created to be protected from development not to be sold off to the highest bidder."

But the provincial government views the situation differently, as a matter of access rather than conservation.

"Parks play a vital role in conservation, but parks are also for people," said Penner. "The population is getting older, and not everyone who stays in a park wants to sleep on the ground in a tent anymore. We want to provide a great parks experience to a wider range of visitors while protecting the ecological integrity of our parks over the long term."

Golden Ears

Golden Ears Provincial Park in Maple Ridge is the most popular park in the province. The park was named after the twin peaks of Mount Blanshard, which shine golden in the setting winter sun. (Photo courtesy Government of British Columbia)
"We will encourage the use of green technologies to minimize the environmental footprint and to showcase made-in-B.C. technology," the minister said.

There are currently about 160 existing fixed-roof accommodation facilities in the BC Parks system, ranging from small, minimally equipped shelters, to more luxurious accomodations such as Manning Park Lodge.

BC Parks also provides more than 11,000 campsites within what Penner points out is the largest parks and protected areas system in North America. British Columbia has more than 600 parks with a total protected land base of more than 13 million hectares, or about 13.8 per cent of the province.

But the management of BC's parks has been a hot potato for the provincial government. A series of unpopular measures from allowing commercial logging within park boundaries and changing park boundaries to allow for industrial development, to trimming the operating budget and installing parking meters, has resulted in sustained criticism of the provincial government.

"Parks are a public legacy for the people of BC, and we need to ensure that this legacy remains intact for our children and grandchildren," said Barlee. "The Wilderness Committee is not going to stand by and watch our park system slowly be dismantled - it is simply not an option."

The ministry will be issuing requests for proposals for fixed-roof accommodation facilities in two groups for the following 12 provincial parks:

The 12 sites include two - Mount Assiniboine and Elk Lakes - where there are existing facilities. Here, Penner said, the proposal call is intended to identify operators.