Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Province to perk up its parks

Users will pay more for it, minister says

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The Selinger government laid out plans Friday to modernize Manitoba's provincial parks, but park users -- particularly cottagers -- will have to pay a bigger share of the cost.

Conservation and Water Stewardship Minister Gord Mackintosh said despite recent investments, the province's park infrastructure and services are largely out of date.

"It's largely the '60s and '70s out there in our parks, still," he told a news conference at which he unveiled details of a park-development strategy through 2020.

Huge back-to-back budget deficits have caused the NDP government to scale down what had been an even more ambitious plan.

The government will still spend $100 million on the strategy, but the improvements will be spread over eight years instead of five. And at least one much-touted project -- the construction of an observation tower and interpretive centre at Duff Roblin Provincial Park at St. Norbert -- has been delayed at least four years.

"Manitobans tell us they want better parks, but they also tell us to skinny the size of government. And we know we have to balance the books," Mackintosh said Friday.

The government's plan includes more yurts, Wi-Fi-equipped campgrounds, campsites with electricity and dozens of new park washrooms and showers. It also includes big-ticket items such as road improvements, waste-water treatment plants and the redevelopment of flood-ravaged Spruce Woods Provincial Park.

Everyone who will use the park, from cottage dwellers and campers to mining companies and oil drillers (there are six operating wells in Turtle Mountain Provincial Park, can expect to pay more. For more than 6,000 cottage owners in Manitoba parks, rentals and service fees will rise an average of $2,000 over the next 10 years. Park cottagers now pay about 38 per cent of the cost of services provided and not nearly as much as cottagers at Riding Mountain National Park or cottage owners outside parks, Mackintosh said.

"A cottager in the Whiteshell, for example, pays about $2,300 less a year than the cottager just across the lake or down the road in the municipality," he said.

Joe Mudry, who has had a cottage at Hecla/Grindstone park for three decades, said he's not opposed to an increase in fees as long as services are improved.

"If I compare the kind of services we get at Grindstone to, say, Falcon Lake... and even Hecla proper, there's no comparison. We get no services," he said.

Currently, user fees of all types cover just 28 per cent of the cost of operating Manitoba's 86 provincial parks. The province is shooting for a 50-50 split in revenue from park users and taxpayers. "We need some taxpayer relief regarding park services, and we all need to pay our fair share," Mackintosh said.

The NDP government will encourage more involvement in parks by the private sector and non-profit organizations. Private-sector partnerships will be explored to expand and improve park trails and provide outdoor adventure opportunities such as rock-climbing, canoeing, kayaking, whitewater rafting, zip-lining, pedal boats and cycling in select provincial parks.

Pressing government budget problems will likely mean service reductions in the near future, Mackintosh warned.

The cuts will be announced in next month's budget. "We may have to have some skinnier interpretive programming for a couple of years," he said, citing one area under review.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca


Improvements package to cost $100M over eight years; rental, camping fees going up

Park users -- be they cottagers, campers, visitors or mine operators -- face higher fees.

Cottage owners within parks will pay $2,000, on average, in additional rental costs and fees during the next 10 years.

Camping fees this year in Manitoba will rise to between $11.55 and $28.35 per night from $10.50 to $26.25 per night. The cost of a park pass will rise to $40 from $30.

The province, facing an ongoing cash crunch, will carry out $100 million in improvements over eight years, not five as previously envisioned. Big-ticket items include $20 million to redevelop flood-ravaged Spruce Woods and St. Ambrose provincial parks, $20 million for more drinking-water facilities and improved roads and $20 million for new waste-water treatment plants to protect Lake Winnipeg.

Redevelopment and expansion of amenities at Spruce Woods Provincial Park will include additional camping spots with electricity, new campground office and showers. The lower campground that was washed out in the 2011 flood will be rehabilitated.

New park services and amenities will include: expanding wireless Internet service to Falcon Lake and Birds Hill campgrounds; enhanced trails, more bike rentals, more playground structures, dozens of new washroom and shower buildings and the upgrade of campsites to electrical service in Whiteshell, Hecla/Grindstone and Duck Mountain parks, among others.

Entry to provincial parks will be free each February to encourage more use of the parks in winter.

The province will seek the sponsorship of corporations and not-for-profit organizations to help upgrade trails and recreation facilities.

It will also explore opportunities with sponsors to provide transportation for Winnipeggers to Birds Hill park.

New cottage-lot subdivisions will be unveiled.

Road upgrades will occur at Hecla-Grindstone, St. Malo, Whiteshell and Assessippi parks.

Map: Manitoba's Parks Strategy

Manitoba's Parks Strategy outlines many changes planned or proposed for provincial parks.  The map below details proposals tied to specific locations.  Blue icons mark improvements at existing provincial parks; yellow icons mark candidates for expansion or new provincial parks.  Read the complete strategy document (PDF)