By Andrew Mitchell
The Ministry of the Environment approved the first of up to 12 fixed-roof accommodations in B.C. provincial parks this week, giving the green light to the Alpine Club of Canada to build an eco-lodge in Mount Robson Provincial Park.
Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies at 3,954 metres, is located in eastern British Columbia, across the border from Jasper National Park.
The Alpine Club of Canada proposal to own and operate the facility on public land would have about 30 beds in a hostel-style accommodation, with no electricity and outhouses rather than a sewage system. The lodge could be accessed by hikers and backcountry skiers for a price.
While the ACC proposal is modest, for the people who oppose the province’s plans to develop lodges in the parks it’s the beginning of the end for public parks.
According to Gwen Barlee of the Friends of the Campaign for B.C. Parks and the Western Canada Wilderness Committee, they will be asking the Alpine Club to withdraw its proposal.
“We’re concerned about it,” she said. “It’s not that we’re opposed to small emergency backcountry shelters that are part of the Alpine Club’s history, but when you’re proposing a development with a commercial aspect, that will increase helicopter traffic into the area, it’s going to have an impact on the landscape.
“The thing that concerns us most is that (the ACC) is doing it through the government’s fixed-roof accommodation strategy, and Alpine Canada’s decision to participate opens the door for larger developers also interested in building lodges in provincial parks.”
Barlee says the ACC’s involvement gives legitimacy to a process that could see new lodges and resorts built in provincial parks throughout the province.
“So far the province has identified 12 parks in their Request For Proposals process, but this is just the first 12 they’re looking at and it won’t be limited to those 12,” said Barlee.
For its part the B.C. government says the lodges will meet stringent environmental standards in their design and construction, and will improve accessibility to the park system for a greater number of people. As well, revenues generated from private lodge operators will help to fund the province’s growing park system. As with the introduction of pay parking at B.C. Parks, the government believes that a share of maintenance costs for the parks should fall on park users rather than wholly on taxpayers.
While the government RFP process caps proposals at just 100 beds, the WCWC received an internal government document 18 months ago that suggests there could be additional beds for staff housing and additional tourists.
Eleven other parks were in the province’s RFP process which got underway in July — Cape Scott, Elk Lakes, Fintry, Foch-Gittloyees, Golden Ears, Maxhamish Lake, Mount Assiniboine, Myra-Bellevue, Nancy Greene, Silver Star and Wells Gray. Garibaldi Provincial Park, which was on the original leaked list of parks slated for lodge development, was not included in this round of RFPs.
To date the government has received proposals for lodges in Mount Robson, Elk Lakes, Maxhamish Lake and Cape Scott. No proposals were received for Golden Ears, Nancy Greene or Wells Gray by the RFP deadline, but the process has been extended for other parks.
While protecting the ecological value of the parks is the main reason groups like Friends of the Campaign for B.C. Parks are involved, opposition to the province’s lodge strategy has also come from the Union of B.C. Municipalities which passed a motion against the strategy at their fall meeting.
The primary objection of the UBCM is that the lodges will compete against existing accommodation businesses in gateway communities outside of parks, although there is also concern that the lodges will compromise the wilderness and wildlife values that a draw for the tourism industry.