JASPER, Alta. – Parks Canada has put off making a decision on a U.S. company’s proposal for a private, for-profit tourist attraction in the scenic and environmentally sensitive Rocky Mountains.
Brewster Travel Canada wants to build a 400-metre-long interpretive trail and a glass-floored platform that would jut high above a valley that overlooks glaciers along the Icefields Parkway in Jasper National Park.
Brewster says its Glacier Discovery Walk would triple the number of visitors to the area at a time when tourism in mountain parks is down.
Parks Canada has received more than 2,000 written submissions, many from people who oppose the project, which would see visitors pay a fee to use the walk. There is also an online petition that has been signed by more than 179,000 people from around the world who want Brewster’s glacier plan scrapped.
“Privatizing Jasper National Park will set a dangerous precedent to allow destructive development by private corporations in World Heritage Sites across Canada,” reads the petition on the avaaz.org website.
“This goes entirely against what Canadians – and visitors – expect and deserve from Canada’s wild and magnificent national parks. We call on you to listen to the Canadian public and your community and stop this development immediately.”
Parks Canada officials were not available for comment. The federal department posted a statement about the delay on its Jasper National Park website.
“Parks Canada will take additional time to complete its determination regarding an environmental assessment of Brewster Travel Canada’s proposed Glacier Discovery Walk,” reads the statement.
“A final determination will be made public in coming weeks.”
Officials at Brewster Travel, which operates bus tours throughout the mountain parks, did not return calls for comment.
The company has said the project would help protect the environment by reducing vehicle traffic in an area frequented by wildlife such as mountain goats and bighorn sheep.
Brewster says tourists would be shuttled to the site at no cost. They would then have the option of viewing the glaciers from the parking lot — for free — or pay for a ticket to use the walkway and observation platform.
Brewster has been guiding bus tours to the area since 1969 and uses special-tracked vehicles to take visitors onto the Athabasca glacier between April and November.
The United Nations declared Jasper National Park and Canada’s other Rocky Mountain parks a World Heritage site in 1984 for their scenic splendour. Included in the designation are the icefields, which are described as a classic illustration of glacial geology.
— By John Cotter in Edmonton