Conservative MP Robert Sopuck has pledged to try to find a way to keep Riding Mountain National Park's ski trails and skating rink open this winter.
In May, Parks Canada announced a reduction in winter programming at the western Manitoba park as part of $29.2 million worth of cuts to the national park system overall. At Riding Mountain, the cuts include no more grooming of the park's expansive ski-trail system and the closing of both a skating rink and skating trail.
Parks Canada has described winter reductions as part of its efforts to maintain all of its resources during the peak periods, when visitor numbers are highest. But at Riding Mountain, there is some winter use, as three hotels in the Wasagaming-Onanole area alone remain open to cater to off-season traffic.
On Friday, Sopuck, MP for Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette, who represents the Riding Mountain area, said Friday in a letter to the Free Press he has heard from constituents unhappy about winter programming changes and said he shares their concerns.
"I have discussed the issue with key Parks Canada personnel and I have been in regular contact with the (Heritage) minister's office to let them know how important the ski trails and skating rink are to the local communities and tourism business," Sopuck said in the letter. "I have let them all know that we need to find a way to keep the trails and rink operational."
The MP, a former Free Press outdoors columnist, pledged to hold a meeting with Riding Mountain-area residents, stakeholders and park management to discuss the changes and figure out ways the ski trails can be groomed and the skating rink remain open.
"This may mean that the parks staff and volunteers will need to work together to maintain the trails. I encourage those constituents interested in taking part to contact my office," Sopuck said.
The MP's letter is welcome and encouraging news, said Karin McSherry, executive director of the Cross Country Ski Association of Manitoba. At 218 kilometres, Riding Mountain National Park's winter-trail system is the largest in Manitoba.
"It's nice to hear a response and he'll convene a meeting and hopefully we can figure out a way to keep the ski trails open and maintain winter activity in the park," McSherry said.
Parks Canada also plans to reduce visitor-centre hours at Riding Mountain, but this won't take effect until September.