Parks Beyond Borders: Canada Funds New Urban National Park While Cutting Budgets And Dropping Employees; And A Dark Sky Park For England?

Rouge River in Toronto

While Canada's Rouge River finally got funded as the nation's first "Urban National Park"—"18 times bigger than Central Park"—Canadians from east to west continued to lament Parks Canada budget cuts and closures.

The news spread fast across Canada last week that the government had announced that the Rouge Park complex that protects an entire watershed in Toronto would indeed become the country’s first “national urban park.”

CBC News reported that, “Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said Friday that Ottawa will be ‘providing over $140 million over the next 10 years and over $7.5 million (annually) to bring to fruition the dream of a 'people's park.'”

“This national urban park will become a place of national significance and will be enjoyed for generations," Flaherty said.

News of the national park was welcomed by many, including Faisal Moola, who applauded it on the David Suzuki Foundations’s Web site. “If all goes as planned, Rouge National Park will be one of the biggest urban parks in the world—18 times bigger than Central Park. It will follow the Rouge River from its source in the Ontario Greenbelt, down to the shores of Lake Ontario.”

Writing in Toronto’s Globe and Mail, Anne McIlroy reported that, “The announcement comes as the federal agency is implementing $29 million in budget cuts” that are “reducing the number of scientists and technical staff who help protect the ecological integrity, or health, of the parks,” and that the cuts have “many experts worried about the future of our national parks.”

She also said, “But Parks Canada is facing another challenge: Attendance is declining, which may have long-term implications for public support. In 1995, 15.3 million Canadians visited a national park, compared to only 12.5 million last year.”

Until Friday's announcement, Canadian papers continued to be focused on the budget cut and layoff story.

A piece in The Calgary Herald by Amanda Stephenson picked up elsewhere ran through the sad stats —"138 Parks Canada employees in Banff, Jasper, Yoho and Waterton Lakes national parks were told their jobs were either ‘surplus’ (positions that will be eliminated) or ‘affected’ (jobs either to be reduced in hours or may be eliminated)” and “25 of the approximately 100 employees at the Parks Canada regional office in Calgary will also lose their jobs."

Kevin King, regional vice-president for the Union of National Employees, said "There’ll be more people working in any given Tim Hortons than there will be field archeologists remaining in the country performing valuable, essential information to describe and interpret the history of our national parks and historic sites. And that’s a real shame for Canadians."

The article points out the impact on small local communities like Field, British Columbia. One resident there commented that some of the people who’d lost their jobs had just bought homes and would likely move away—with significant impact on the economy of a community with only 134 people.

Elsewhere, boaters and lake tourism businesspeople were lamenting plans to potentially reduce the hours of operation for locks operated by Parks Canada on the Rideau Canal, a Unesco World Heritage Site connecting Ottawa, and Kingston, Ontario on Lake Ontario. It’s the oldest continuously operated canal system in North America, having opened in 1832 as a precaution in case of war with the United States and is still in use today. Parks Canada operates the locks seasonally, opening them in mid-May and closing them in mid-October. The Brockville Recorder and Times gave voice to locals whose businesses are timed to the canal’s season and expect major impacts if the season or hours are cut, though the canal season appears likely to remain stable this season.

Summer is just starting, but the topic is winter for some of the people worried about the cuts. The Calgary Herald story also reported winter pessimism in Field, where Yoho National Park’s visitor center will be closed next winter and Parks Canada will no longer groom Nordic ski trails.

The Winnipeg Free-Press reported that, “Federal budget cuts have claimed Manitoba's largest network of cross-country ski trails, as Riding Mountain National Park will no longer maintain its 218-kilometre winter trail system.”

The park is in southern Manitoba and is “Manitoba's only road-accessible national park.” The paper said the park will, “will stop grooming ski trails, operating a skating rink, maintaining a skating trail or keeping the backcountry Cairns Cabin open during the winter as part of service cuts that also include limited visitor-safety services during the off-season and reduced visitor-centre hours during the spring and fall shoulder seasons.”

The paper quoted concerns that winter businesses that rely exclusively on the park’s winter recreation activities may be deeply affected.

The news was bad as well at Nova Scotia's Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site, the only Parks Canada site that is designated both a National Park and a National Historic Site. The local Herald News reported the park would only be open in summer with locals decrying the loss of winter recreation in the park.

Certified Dark Skies Over UK’s Northumberland National Park?

The UK’s Guardian newspaper marveled last week that a country as small and crowded as Britain might just be about to see its first officially designated "dark sky preserve” by the International Dark Sky Association.

The paper said the effort by the local forest authority to designate Kielder Forest and adjacent Northumberland National Park was sparked by the success of “astronomical holidays” called “star camps” that had drawn 30,000 enthusiasts in four years.

Stargazing is an activity promoted by the national park and creates an added attraction to visit this northern England national park if you're heading to the UK this summer.

Commentators in the story describe how flabbergasted visitors from elsewhere in England are by the dazzling night sky, a spectacle that led one businessman to place star charts and binoculars in his rental holiday cabins.

The paper said that research by Kielder Observatory and astronomical societies had proven that the “darkness is Stygian enough to meet the standards of IDSA (International Dark Sky Association), provided regular monitoring and other measures are agreed to.” Dark sky status was bestowed on Galway Forest in Scotland in 2009 and reports confirm the designation has boosted the tourism business.

The Guardian quoted Elisabeth Rowark, director of the Kielder Water Development Trust, as saying, “Dark sky status would allow us to protect, cherish and promote our natural nightscapes, but gaining public support is the key. It’s crucial to understand that the idea does not mean turning lights off.” She emphasized the need to work with locals to “create less wasteful lighting and promote the night sky as an asset for the region.”

The Guardian said the dark sky status would mean “the country will be home to an official ‘dark sky preserve’ equalled only by two lonely areas in Quebec and Texas.”

Lake District National Park “Markedly Improved”

Elsewhere in the UK, the Lake District National Park Authority has won high praise in the The National Parks Authorities Performance Assessment 2012, according to a story in GoOutdoors.

After inspectors toured the park talking to locals, park partners, and others, the park received “three out of four or better in every category in which it was assessed,” including “high standards and exceptionally ‘approachable’ attitude.”

The park staff was touted for its “shared vision” and efforts to improve service. The article said, “Areas singled out for special praise were numerous, but included Brockhole's national park visitor centre—which was described as ‘dynamically transformed'—and the park's climate-change strategies, which made the Lakes a ‘recognised ... leader’ with ‘award winning environmental performance.’”

The Lake District National Park, England’s largest national Park (second in the UK) is noted as much for spectacular peaks as lakes.

Comments

This is unfortunate:

“But Parks Canada is facing another challenge: Attendance is declining, which may have long-term implications for public support. In 1995, 15.3 million Canadians visited a national park, compared to only 12.5 million last year.”

That's a big drop. Is it about the same falloff in attendance as in the United States? Is there any theory why Canadian national park attendance has fallen off so sharply?

Gasoline in Canada is expensive. I wonder if that's part of the reason.

It would seem that in both countries ways have to be found to interest the public in the national parks, because the author's comment that a falloff “may have long-term implications for public support” is undoubtedly correct.

BTW, I once saw Red Bay National Historic Site, in southern Labrador, one of the more remote parts of Canada. That was pretty cool.

The concern I have about this latest round of government cuts is that usually there are only 2 directions to go- forward or backward. Many times we see our governments using the easier route which is to make cuts. As more cuts occur, the services becomes more and more difficult to access and thus access reduces and more cuts occur, etc. as the downward spirel occurs. We could look at air service across the country, or rail services, or bus services or ferry services.

Instead it would be nice if government could have a vision of what it takes to make a great country. If our former governments had not had a vision we would never have had the canal systems, , across Canada rail lines, or the national parks. These things did not happen easily, but they believed in them and made them happen.

We need a government to realize that a full life includes more than only dollars and cents and the things that make a country great include the things that bind us together-- culture, arts, nature, etc. Instead of making cuts we should be assessing how to interest more people in the parks. We need to educate our citizens about their parks. Just think how many times you see MacDonlds ads on TV. How many people of Canada don't know about MacDonalds? There are reasons that businesses are successful and it is not because they are cutting and reducing staff. (I'm not saying that never happens) A major effort is made to make sure people know of their product and the product is presented in a way to convince people they must have it.

When I think of what our parks can offer in enjoyment, quiet times, etc. it is hard to believe that it isn't an important service we should be encouraging people to take part in. They can provide a boost not only to our physical health but also our mental health--does this not sound like a good investment?

Many branches of our governments could have an interest in expanding our parks systems- but do they have vision?