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Brewster shares Glacier Discovery Walk plans

Brewster Travel Canada was in Jasper recently to share with the public their proposal to build the Glacier Discovery Walk on the Icefields Parkway according to a recent article by Carrie White in Jasper's Fitzhugh on February 10.

The attraction will consist of a 400 metre interpretive boardwalk and a glass-floored observation platform extending 30 metres out over the Sunwapta Valley. Visitors will be taken on a guided interpretive walk along the walkway, which will contain interpretive stations highlighting the ecology, geology, glaciology, aboriginal history and social history of the area. The final stop on the walk will be the glass-floored observation platform.

The project has already gained quite a bit of attention and Michael Hannan, president of Brewster Travel Canada, was on hand to speak to some of the concerns being heard in the community. One of the major issues that have arisen with the project is the deadly corner on the stretch of highway where the Discovery Walk is supposed to be built. Speaking to this issue, Hannan said, “We have been concerned about that (traffic in that area) for some time. “It is almost a hairpin corner currently and there are huge numbers of people exiting and entering there. We are attempting to close the north access and restrict the south access to bus traffic, hoping to decrease volume, and then a left turning lane and an acceleration lane will be created,” he said. “We think that the traffic situation will be much safer in the future with the alterations (we have proposed).” Hannan said even with the changes, the existing viewpoint area will remain intact.

When queried about environmental concerns, Hannan said the Discovery Walk would commence at the south end (of the site) which is currently a cliff. “We’re maintaining the existing footprint, not expanding it,” he said, adding that the area would be outfitted with new pavement and way-finding signage, all of which will be paid for by Brewster. “As for animal and environmental impact, we commissioned a study last summer with a private company,” said Hannan. “They are helping with the environmental assessment – that happens under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) – and all potentially affected wildlife and vegetation will be flagged.”

The CEAA process will have Brewster submit their environmental assessment to Parks Canada for review. Parks will make recommendations for changes if needed,  and once that process is complete the formal public review process will begin. Shawn Cardiff, Manager, Integrated Land Use, Policy and Planning for Jasper National Park, said that when Parks receives any proposal, it goes through a series of policy filters. The most important, locally, being the Jasper Park Management Plan. Cardiff said that from what Parks can see so far, there will be no ecological disturbances at this point, but the environmental assessment will give them a more concrete idea of any issues.

Monica Andreeff executive director for the Association for Mountain Parks Protection and Enjoyment (AMPPE) said the Discovery Walk would act as a new attraction that adds a kind of “wow” factor for the independent traveller. She said that AMPPE’s mission is to promote responsible use of Canada’s mountain parks, support a buoyant tourism industry, and advocate for an exceptional visitor experience – while protecting the ecological integrity of Canada’s mountain parks. “Speaking to the bigger picture, in general I think when you look at tourism, Canada has to be able to compete globally. That includes the mountain parks, who have to compete globally and regionally as well,” she said. “The national parks have to keep refreshing their product – especially on Highway 93 because that is a huge economic corridor for businesses in Jasper and Banff.”

Hannan indicated that “currently, two million people per year are driving past the Discovery Centre, but only 300,000 are taking the tour. That is down from 600,000 people per year 12 years ago,” he said. “We think one of the reasons is that the bus tour appeals to a group travel market. The independent travel market is different, they are more spur of the moment.” He explained that Parks Canada surveys show that people want more experiential attractions.

The Jasper Environmental Association commented that they believe this project is being pushed through very hurriedly. “According to Brewster staff at the Jasper open house, negotiations between Parks and Brewster only began last fall. Construction is due to begin this spring/summer. Only a simple screening assessment will be required. A massive construction job like this in a national park should be subject to a full comprehensive assessment under the Canada Environmental Assessment Act with public input from across Canada,” they stated. “To get Parks Canada to agree to this egregious project would have required some strong lobbying of a sympathetic federal government by local business interests in Banff and Jasper. If they are not careful they will destroy the very place that contributes to their livelihoods.”

As far as public concerns, Hannan said the consultation process is only in its initial stages. “We will continue to hold open houses and communicate online by answering questions that are posted there,” he said. “We are trying to be as open as possible and we continue to look for ideas and input from the public and we hope to reflect that in the final project.”

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