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Home » AMPPE in the News » Reaction mixed for Icefields trail

July 14, 2016 – The Rocky Mountain Outlook. Story by Cathy Ellis.

A $65.9 million paved trail along Icefields Parkway from the Jasper townsite to the Columbia Icefields is drawing mixed reaction.

Several conservation groups are voicing concern about Parks Canada’s plan to build a 107-kilometre trail to connect several tourist attractions, trails and accommodations along the parkway because the trail will put even more human use into critical grizzly bear and caribou habitat, while business groups say it gives people another way to experience the national park.

Steve Young, a Parks Canada spokesman, said the federal agency would consult with the public on the project in 2016-17 and undertake a full environmental assessment, with a scheduled completion date for the project of March 2019.

“These important steps will inform the route chosen for the trail and corresponding design and construction specifications,” he said. “It should be noted that the final trail route has not been determined.”

Reg Bunyan, of Bow Valley Naturalists, said the group is concerned about habitat fragmentation for sensitive species, pointing to the tiny Brazeau herd of caribou that calls part of the valley home.

“All that lower valley bottom habitat is crucial grizzly bear habitat in early spring when the snow is up high. Part of that trail will also go through caribou habitat,” he said.

Even though Parks Canada says there will be an environmental assessment and public input, Bow Valley Naturalists are concerned about the process and believe the trail is a done deal.

“A real concern is that once money has been allocated, the reality is that money is not going to be turned back, and that means the decision has already been made,” said Bunyan. “These decisions are essentially being made ahead of time without proper public input.”

Several conservation groups also suspect the trail will eventually run all the way to Lake Louise and link to Bow Valley Parkway and the Legacy Trail.

“No one is going to build a trail that stops in the middle of nowhere,” said Bunyan. “It’s going to come to Lake Louise and once it gets to Lake Louise what are they going to do with the 1A? It’s the whole ripple and cumulative effects.”

Cycling in Jasper

On the other hand, the Association for Mountain Parks Protection and Enjoyment (AMPPE) welcomes the trail.

Casey Peirce, AMPPE’s executive director, said cyclists have been riding this scenic route for many years, but increasing safety will undoubtedly lead to more people experiencing the region outside of their cars.

“The response in the mountain community has been incredibly positive. There is definitely excitement that there will be a non-motorized and safe option to experience one of the most beautiful highways in the world,” she said.

Peirce said AMPPE is a big supporter of positive visitor experience and sustainable tourism.

“The proposed pathway will be beneficial for many reasons ranging from promotion of healthy and active lifestyles, reduced greenhouse gas emissions from car traffic and reduced animal mortality with slower speeds,” she said.

Peirce said the successful Legacy Trail from Canmore to Banff is an example of how Canadians are looking for more engaging, accessible and eco-friendly ways to connect with their national parks.

“This is one more way we can encourage people to get out and enjoy our beautiful wilderness in a way that is both immersive and good for the environment,” she said.

Parks’ Young said the trail would be a multi-use trail.

“The trail will connect a variety of existing attractions, trails and accommodations and meet the needs of a range of users, specifically families and youth who wish to leave their cars and explore the park by bike, on foot or inline skates and, in winter, by cross country skiing, fat biking and snowshoeing,” he said.

“This trail will also improve visitor safety by moving cyclists away from the road and onto a trail.”

Young said Parks Canada has developed some general principles to guide decisions on the final trail route, including making use of existing disturbed areas within the highway corridor such as the old paved highway and other trail routes.

He said they would also look at keeping the trail far enough from the parkway for safety, and create a wilderness feel on the trail by maintaining a natural buffer between the trail and road. The number of times the trail crosses the highway will also be minimized.

“The targeted completion date for this project is March 2019,” said Young.

Original article sourced here.

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