Riding Mountain National Park doesn’t expect hike in violations despite free entry

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OTTAWA — The top ranger at Riding Mountain National Park says he’s not expecting more noise, illegal camping and litter this summer, despite this year's free entry luring more visitors.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/07/2017 (1959 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA — The top ranger at Riding Mountain National Park says he’s not expecting more noise, illegal camping and litter this summer, despite this year’s free entry luring more visitors.

Matthew Blackman, one of Riding Mountain’s four wardens, said the park is taking “a holistic approach,” focused on “getting information out early.”

Straddling the Manitoba Escarpment near Dauphin, Riding Mountain welcomed 339,441 visitors in the 2015-16 season. In the first six months of 2017, the park has seen a 1.2 per cent increase in visitors compared with the same period last year. Nationally, there’s been a nine per cent jump.

Brandon Sun 20082016 Outdoor enthusiasts take advantage of the nice weather on Clear Lake in Riding Mountain National Park on Saturday afternoon. (Tim Smith/The Brandon Sun)

That’s because of the Discovery Pass, which waves park-entry fees for visitors to mark the 150th anniversary of Confederation.

To deal with the increase, parks such as Riding Mountain have added more private security staff, who monitor the park and report incidents. Cash-strapped Parks Canada, however, has resisted hiring more wardens, who can carry guns, arrest people and issue warnings.

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Instead, the agency has put up more signs, closed some higher-risk areas and boosted direct outreach.

While the Discovery Pass is free, visitors still have to request one online or in person, helping the agency track attendance and inform people about the rules. Rangers similarly instruct campers who buy permits and equipment.

Tamaini Snaith, who leads Parks Canada’s law enforcement nationally, says the aim is to “reduce the need for law enforcement” through prevention. “Just because we’re expecting more visitors does not mean that we’re expecting more issues.”

Snaith also described Riding Mountain as a typical park, with an average number of incidents compared to its attendance figures.

Over a four-year period starting in 2011-12, the park logged between 221 and 340 incidents each year, which includes everything from arrests and tickets to warnings.

While more recent data wasn’t available, Parks Canada provided the Free Press with a breakdown of the 265 law-enforcement Incidents logged at the park in 2015. The vast majority involve permit violations, unauthorized fishing and hunting, as well as ATV use.

Blackman said “a fairly high number of incidents” come from screening boats, to make sure that invasive zebra mussels don’t gain a foothold in the park. He said the amount and types of incidents haven’t changed in recent years.

While Alberta’s busy Banff and Jasper parks logged a handful of nudists, none were recorded at Riding Mountain. Instead, there were 13 liquor violations and nine noise complaints, as well as seven infractions along Highway 10.

Alison Ronson, a national director with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, said she’s glad Parks Canada is informing visitors about respecting nature, but argued the agency needs more money for conservation programs.

“When you educate visitors about nature in the park, and how to embrace nature, you create this feeling of stewardship and responsibility for the parks, and that translates into better behaviour,” she said.

Ronson said she’s already heard of more incidents of visitors getting close to wildlife, and crowded access to some of the already popular parks. However, she added, she hopes the free entry pass will boost interest in less-frequented parks.

Manitoba’s only other national park, Wapusk, sits 45 kilometres south of Churchill. It has had between 193 and 252 recorded visitors for each of the last four recorded years, and netted four violations in 2015 which involved an ATV, wildlife and permits.

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Monday, July 24, 2017 1:17 PM CDT: Corrects figures for Wapusk National Park attendance.

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