The province will spend more than $16 million in the next seven years to upgrade Whiteshell Provincial Park, Conservation and Water Stewardship Minister Gord Mackintosh said Friday.
The infrastructure upgrades, the largest ever in the 52-year history of the park, are part of ongoing work that started last year. The 28 individual projects for the park include the recent streetscaping at the West Hawk Lake townsite plus new parking for up to 300 cars and boat trailers and two new boat ramps.
Mackintosh said work at West Hawk also includes new decorative walkway lighting and large outdoor art installations inspired by the park's natural history, including a new etched beach wall. The cost of the West Hawk project was $6.1 million.
He said Whiteshell Provincial Park, which sees more than 1.4 million visits each year, needs to be "refreshed" as there has not been major infrastructure work for a number of years.
"It's time to keep this park one of our favourites and as well provide greater environmental leadership," he said.
Mackintosh said the upgrades include the refurbishment of boat launches at McDougall's Landing, Dorothy and Star lakes, upgrades to the West Hawk Lake sewage lagoon and the start of improvements to the Falcon Lake South Shore and Big Whiteshell South Shore roads.
He also said new washrooms and showers are to be built at the Betula, Big Whiteshell, Falcon, Brereton, West Hawk and White lake campgrounds. Upgrades to drinking-water treatment at Brereton Lake, White Lake, Opapiskaw, Caddy Lake and Big Whiteshell campgrounds are also planned.
Work on the park and upgrades at other provincial parks throughout Manitoba are to be partly paid for through higher fees for cottage owners in provincial parks. The fee hike was announced in March and will see annual fees nearly triple. The average cottager pays about $280 a year in service fees. That number will rise to $738 over five years.
"We've got to make the investments," Mackintosh said. "If we continue to let it go, we're going to get more and more complaints and we're going to have a degradation of that quality of life that's so important for cottaging in Manitoba."
Mackintosh also said more campsites at the Brereton and Nutimik campgrounds will be electrified, and more yurts added at the Nutimik campground. The Falcon Lake mall and the West Hawk Marina will also be refurbished and a new waste-water treatment facility at West Hawk/Falcon and Brereton will be built.
Eric Reder, campaign director of the Wilderness Committee, said he welcomed the upgrades, but added the province needs to do more to protect the park from development.
"Nearly half of Whiteshell is still at risk from mining and mineral exploration activity," he said. "Manitoba provincial parks need to be 'improved' so that they are protected areas, like parks across Canada."
The province banned logging in all but one of Manitoba's 80 provincial parks in 2009. Logging continues on a limited basis only in Duck Mountain Provincial Park.