Nature for Sale

UPDATE: Skywalk cost for an adult is $25, and the trip advisor reviews are very mixed, and largely concur that it is an overpriced and poorly managed attraction. After driving past it - these photos show something a lot larger than what was built. As far as cost comparison, I spend 11.50 for a movie at my local theatre for two hours of entertainment. How anyone can justify $25 for what would be 25 minutes of viewing for even the most dedicated tourist - I can't imagine.

A UNESCO World Heritage site,  Jasper National Park is one of Canada's most beautiful regions, and it's just not pulling it's weight. So Parks Canada has authorized a flash new observation deck to be built by Brewster Travel Canada to help improve lagging tourist numbers.

Brewster's website has a lovely history lesson, but the fact of the matter is that Brewster is now owned by Viad Corp. Viad's website explains that they are "the business behind leading businesses" and are "global experience specialists".  But Jasper just isn't living up to the Viad promise - so they've decided to get competitive in the tourist market.  You know, get every dime out of that spectacular view before the glacier dissapears.

A petition from Avaaz posted by a friend surfaced in my Facebook newsfeed this morning, and I was certain that there must be some misinformation or exaggeration taking place.  Google strangely provided me with no results under 'News' when I searched "Jasper Park privatisation" or "Jasper National Park Stephen Harper".   I finally hit the right nerve and found an article from December in the Edmonton Journal that explained.   (As an aside to Avaaz; I know you need to get this story the attention it deserves but please add a bit more story to your headlines, it makes it easier to get the information I need to sign. )

Apparently Brewster’s Columbia Icefields Experience attendance dropped by 50 per cent between 1999 and 2009, from 603,000 to 276,000.  The glass and metal walkway  design (a big hit with architecture crowd at the World Architecture Festival in Barcelona last year) will thrust out garishly over the Sunwapta Valley.  The change means visitors could no longer park along the 500-metre pullout on the west side of the highway.  Free buses would run from the Icefields Centre to Tangle Ridge, where the company would give people the choice between a free public viewpoint or a $15 to $30 guided interpretive walk. 

As this video shows, haven't we done enough?  I sympathise with the argument that the view is not handicapped accessible, and the Glacier Walk would facilitate that experience. However I'd like to imagine that Canadians who have a disability also have a conservationalist bent towards preventing a free-for-all exploitation of the natural habitat of so many species that have already been severely disturbed by our intervention in this beautiful ecosystem.   That's right, it's an ecosystem, not a for-profit system.  If Viad Corp and Brewster weren't so keen to get their customers that "stunning vantage point" (Brewster president Michael Hannan) we would have one less unsightly blight on our mountainside.

I also don't care if it's already partially developed near the proposed Glacier Walk site, I'd prefer we close Pandora's box - even if some of the contents have already escaped.  We can stem the flow of development. As Canadians, do we not champion our pristine landscapes as often as possible? Brewster promises they have done their homework, and that they will fund monitoring of the environmental impact following construction. Though considering this is an enterprise meant to improve their bottom line, how certain are we that their monitoring will be unbiased, or even sufficient?  Does anyone remember the ducks killed on the tailing pools in the Alberta oil sands? You might consider that an incorrect comparison, but the moral is that the habit of large corporate entities to underestimate environmental damage in favour of shareholder profit is almost a given.  I don't want to see it happen again in my province, whether it's oil extraction or altering the natural landscape for human convenience.

Since Canadians certainly didn't ask for the Glacier Walk, was there a tourist outcry I have missed?  The truth is, this is designed for one purpose, to bolster Brewster numbers and net them a cool $15-$30 profit per head that pays to have that little bit more of an ideal "experience".  One day it could be more than we can afford, more than our national parks and wildlife can afford.   Please make your voice heard through Avaaz, or through your local paper (I'm talking to you, Albertans!)

I'm leaving our PM of this for the most part, but write him too! Tell our Prime Minister that part of his duty is to protect our hinterlands and wilderness from undue exploitation.  That's one of the reasons he has been (unfortunately) elected, remind him of his civic duties, won't you?

Already nearly 30,000 strong.

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