Not Your Grandfather’s Parks
Eighty-five years ago, a trip to an Alberta provincial park usually meant a boat ride, swim or picnic at one of six scenic sites. Today, visitors can camp, hike, mountain bike, canoe or just relax at about 280 provincial parks and recreation areas, while more experienced outdoor adventurers can explore 33 wildland provincial parks or wilderness areas such as Wilmore Wilderness Park.But that’s not all. At many parks, you can now take a guided hike, geocache, gaze at northern lights, enter a photography contest, appreciate art, or even take a workshop on using plants from the boreal forest to dye fibre.
For Alberta’s tourism industry, that means more opportunities to develop experiences that showcase one of the province’s primal attractions — the natural beauty of our parks.
Green Tourism and Jobs
In total, Alberta Parks conserves 473 unique protected areas, including ecological reserves and heritage rangelands, encompassing nearly 29,000 square kilometres (11,000 square miles). In its quest to develop fresh experiences for visitors, Alberta Parks is working with tourism destination regions and community partners to build economic diversification, green tourism and green jobs.
“We want to inspire a broader audience to recognize and appreciate the value of Alberta’s parks by promoting our diverse landscapes, multitudes of outdoor adventures and hidden gems,” says Heather Lambert, manager of program planning and policy coordination at Alberta Environment and Parks.
Balancing Recreation with Preservation
In their formative years, Alberta’s parks authorities set aside lands primarily for recreational use. Beginning in the 1970s, preservation became an important consideration when parks were selected, planned and developed. Maintaining these two objectives means any new tourism initiatives in provincial parks need to balance environmental footprint, impact on wildlife and a park’s capacity for visitors and activity.
This can be a challenge as visitation continues to grow. From 2012 to 2015, the number of Albertans who visited at least one provincial park in a year grew by almost 14 per cent. Albertans account for about 95 per cent of visitors to the parks, which are often in the top three attractions of rural Alberta communities on Trip Advisor.
“The key for us is to find partners that have genuine interest in the provincial parks and share our values of conservation and inclusivity,” says Lambert.
New Products That FitWhen searching for new products, Alberta Parks looks for activities that are a natural fit. Recent offerings include:
- Three culinary camping opportunities being piloted this summer with the Alberta Culinary Tourism Alliance at Sir Winston Churchill, Pigeon Lake and Lesser Slave Lake provincial parks, featuring local foods and chefs.
- A pilot project with Alberta Culture and Tourism and the Alberta Farmers’ Market Association to offer popup farmers’ markets at selected parks.
- A new dark sky stargazing experience scheduled to launch at Lakeland Provincial Park this spring.
- New “regional routes” itineraries to inspire visitors to stay longer and explore the Northern Rockies, Lakeland, David Thompson Country, the Canadian Badlands, Kananaskis Country and the Crown of the Continent. This series of webpages and videos will expand each year to include more areas of the province.
Reaching Out to the WorldMoving forward, Alberta Parks continues to collaborate with Travel Alberta on mapping, trip planning and sharing content, says Lambert.
Work is underway to create a new level of real-time sharing of information with the Alberta Tourism Information Service (ATIS), which will increase ways of providing customers with up-to-date content.
Some parks, such as Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, are exploring opportunities to develop export-ready products for the international traveller, with staff attending Travel Alberta’s Canada’s West Marketplace Scholarship Program.
“By working with Travel Alberta, we learn from others, plus we help inform them about who we are at Alberta Parks,” says Lambert. “It helps set the stage for more partnerships and growth.”
Come and Celebrate!
Parks Day — on July 15, 2017 — will be the feature celebration of the 85th anniversary of provincial parks in Alberta. Visitors are invited to take part in special events, giveaways, contests and a new Alberta Parks trackable geocoin. More details will be posted on the Alberta Parks events website as Parks Day approaches.