Parks tourism report draws fire


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The provincial government is touting a new report that “demonstrates the significant untapped potential of Manitoba parks” but is being slammed as needless and misguided by a wilderness advocate.

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The provincial government is touting a new report that “demonstrates the significant untapped potential of Manitoba parks” but is being slammed as needless and misguided by a wilderness advocate.

The report, prepared on behalf of Travel Manitoba by MNP LLP, Prairie Research & Associates and HTFC Planning and Design in December 2020, recommends the province’s 92 parks offer better accommodations and services; entice more visitors, including those with disabilities, low-income people and recent immigrants; partner with Indigenous communities and organizations; develop better marketing; and raise fees to improve service sustainably.

The province said in a news release Thursday the 114-page report will be used to inform a new strategy for its parks.

“This report echoes last month’s speech from the throne, which promised a capital plan for major investment in parks and confirms the importance of continuing the legacy of the treasured parks systems. Our provincial parks are not for sale, and we look forward to developing a bold, future-focused comprehensive strategy to enhance and preserve the provincial park system and ecosystems they support,” Environment, Climate and Parks Minister Jeff Wharton said in a statement.

Eric Reder, Manitoba field office director of the non-profit Wilderness Committee, said the report was needless — and when it was first announced, an attempt to justify privatization.

“This isn’t what our parks need right now,” said Reder, adding he thinks the province’s focus should be climate, biodiversity and the expansion of protected areas, particularly within a close drive of Winnipeg.

“The one thing that’s missing overall is that when you have a capacity issue in parks, which this is a lot of, the answer isn’t to increase user fees so that you restrict people, the answer is to grow parks. It means we need more parks.”

The report, made public this week though initially slated for release in spring 2021, said modernizing park assets and infrastructure comes at a cost.

“Increasing the level of service without increasing the user price would not be financially sustainable for Manitoba Parks,” the executive summary reads.

The report notes the province’s parks have some of the lowest access and usage fees in the country.

“A system-wide increase in fees would increase the recovery rate in individual parks and ensure park spaces are maintained with modern infrastructure,” reads Travel Manitoba’s executive summary.

“Park infrastructure improvements would require an increase in rates that is implemented over an extended period. For low-income residents, means of subsidizing park experiences could also be explored.”

The province is not considering upping park entry and camping fees, at this point, Wharton said.

Reder said the report is focused on improving the economic feasibility of parks, which he believes is not the point of protected pieces of wilderness.

“We have an obligation to protect nature, we have an obligation to protect existing parks so they continue to provide.”

The province ought to spend money on improving park infrastructure and expanding protected areas, Reder said, pointing to improving trails, electrical hookups at campsites and staffing as tangible things to achieve.

“We could have already figured out which parks were at capacity, but the belief that parks staff don’t have some vested interest or were tied to the last government or were wasteful, and instead we need a consultant to come in and say this — it’s really difficult,” Reder said.

Erik Pindera

Erik Pindera

Erik Pindera reports for the city desk, with a particular focus on crime and justice.

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