Free parks in 2017 isn’t a cause for celebration

Free admission to Canada’s national parks is a step in the right direction, but still a walk in the dark. 

To celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary, admission for all visitors to national parks will be free in 2017. The plan is meant to promote Canada’s national parks, some of which have less than 100 visitors per year, and to make outdoor experiences more accessible. 

But while the idea is well-intentioned, it doesn’t take the diversity of Canada’s national parks into account. Some are more sensitive to the disruption of visitors and some, like Banff National Park, are overcrowded as it is.

Every year students from all across Canada and the world flock to Banff, Alberta to work in one of Canada’s most picturesque tourist destinations. Anyone who’s been there during peak season knows exactly how busy it can get. 

The park is made up of over 6,000 square kilometres of the Rocky Mountains, home to expansive forests, hiking trails, diverse wildlife and the famous turquoise Lake Louise. 

By opening it up for free, the increase in visitors isn’t going to be easy to deal with. Banff’s tourist numbers have already been increasing steadily, with 3.8 million visitors in 2015 alone. 

The mayor of Banff has expressed her frustration with Parks Canada’s lack of collaboration with them to strategize for 2017 and there’s real anxiety among Banff’s residents, who are concerned for the impact on the wildlife along with the cultural integrity of the park. 

More people means more trash, more campsites, more motor accidents on park roads, and the danger inflicted on animals in populated zones. With the May 2-4 weekend less than six months away, the window for adequate preparation is closing. 

The money lost during the free admission year through waived park fees is not the problem that threatens the park from free admission, it’s the sheer numbers of visitors.

Hiring more park staff, a set number of passes a day, diverting mountain traffic, and capping campsites are all possible precautions that can be taken to minimize damage to delicate ecosystems with the influx of visitors. These are all things that should’ve been planned before the promise of free admission was made. 

The irony is that the government’s plan to celebrate Canada’s national parks for their value to Canadian culture and heritage may just be the very thing that ends up harming them. 

Ashley is The Journal’s Assistant Lifestyle Editor. She’s a third-year English major.

Corrections

November 29, 2016

Banff’s tourist numbers for 2015 were 3.8 million, not billion.

The Journal regrets the error.

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