Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Loss of cross-country ski trails sends message -- be sedentary

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Manitoba's winter is a great season and it's always a treat to spend a few days in Riding Mountain National Park. It's so peaceful and magical to be outdoors cross-country skiing on bright and sunny arctic days, and it's so pleasant to relax tired muscles in the warm water of the Solstice Spa at Elkhorn Resort.

Unfortunately, this year our national park created for the benefit, education and enjoyment of the people of Canada has lost its raison d'etre by cutting services and stopping the grooming of cross-country ski trails.

This is a cost saving measure, but at the same time, cars are welcome in the ghost town of Wasagaming where streets are cleared of snow at great expense.

Why was such a decision made?

Winter is part of our Canadian culture and cross-country skiers are people of Canada. Cutting access to the park is like closing movie theaters to save cleaning costs; it does not make any sense. Of course, it will save a few dollars in the park budget, but the global cost to the country is far reaching.

Canada, through its national parks, is promoting a sedentary winter. Physical inactivity is a fast-growing public health concern and is responsible for huge health care expenses, but the message from our government is loud and clear: we love cars and don't mind the expense of clearing streets that go nowhere, but outdoor exercise is not good. Winter should be enjoyed from the comfort of a couch in front of a TV or somewhere else like Florida, but certainly not in our national parks.

This decision will encourage cross-country skiers to go to our neighbours in the United States with their many groomed trails, great accommodations and, of course, shopping malls on the way. The loss to the Canadian economy is much more than a few dimes saved by not grooming trails -- it is also threatening the survival of local hotels by deterring visits by precious winter customers.

The federal government had no problem encouraging snowmobile associations in Quebec by giving them a grant of $940,000 in 2012, supposedly to boost the province as a prime winter destination.

Snowmobiling is not the only winter activity to promote and Manitoba is also a winter destination with great potential. It has the longest skating path in the world, a restaurant on the river, multiple unique winter festivals and diverse and challenging cross-country ski trails in our provincial and national parks. Tourists, especially Europeans, attracted by our wilderness and exotic winters, are ready to come, but not if we stop services.

Whoever made the decision to cut services in our national parks should stand by their beliefs by doing two things: Cut the cost of the yearly pass in half. Why pay for a full year when services are only available half the year? And change the sign at the entrance of the park to the following: Welcome to our Part-Time' National Park.

We Don't Like Winter and Cross-Country Skiers.

Winnipegger Philippe Erhard, originally from France, is a physician, author and avid cross-country skier.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 30, 2013 A11

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