Monday, January 09, 2012
Jasper National Park is a Canadian gem; privatization is in the wings
One of Canada's true gems is Jasper National Park. I passed through Jasper on my cross-Canada trip from Halifax to Vancouver aboard VIA Rail Canada in 2008. And five years earlier, I took the eastbound VIA Rail Canada from Vancouver to Jasper en route to Edmonton. It was winter, and it was wonderful.
It was cold when I arrived in Jasper, about -18 degrees Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit), but luckily I'd purchased a long, down coat the day before at Roots in Vancouver. When we arrived at the train station (I had a sleeper car for the 17-hour trip), I hopped aboard a Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge shuttle, and headed for the lodge where I'd spend two nights before traveling on to Edmonton. Things got off to a wildlife start when an elk strolled across the road in front of our shuttle (they were originally imported in the 1920s from Yellowstone National Park, and today they number in the thousands). Over the next two days, I'd see another herd of elk, a coyote, white-tailed deer and a red squirrel. I also heard coyotes, howling at the night moon.
Fairmont Jasper Lake Lodge started out with just a few tents on the shores of Lac Beauvert in 1915, and the Canadian National Railway took it over and built a new lodge in 1923. Sadly, it burned to the ground 29 years later, but today it boasts 446 rooms in cedar chalets and heritage log cabins spread out over 903 acres. The lodge is rustic and elegant, with high ceilings and highly polished slate floors. It's a blend of Frank Lloyd Wright and Canadiana.
I don't ski or snowboard, but there are plenty of other winter activities in Jasper, my favorite being the Maligne Canyon icewalk. I booked the trip with Jasper Adventure Centre, and they not only pick up guests at the lodge, but provide waterproof boots and crampons for traversing on ice, along with walking sticks. Mount Pyramid rises high above Maligne Canyon, the deepest canyon in Jasper National Park. As I made my way along the blue-green river, surrounded by frozen waterfalls and towering limestone walls, adventurous climbers gingerly scaled the walls.
So that brings me to the news that there's a proposal by Stephen Harper to privatize Jasper National Park, the largest in the Canadian Rockies. And what many park lovers are upset about is the proposed 300 meter metal walkway that will be blasted into the World Heritage mountains. Brewster Travel Canada (Brewster) is proposing to develop a "stunning world-class, fully accessible unique viewing experience" in Jasper National Park that will be called the Glacier Discovery Walk. The proposed development "will provide an immersive, interpretive guided experience focusing on the wonder of the unique ecosystem, glaciology, natural and aboriginal history of the Columbia Icefield area in the Canadian Rockies."
My Facebook page has been filled with links for petitions against Stephen Harper's proposed privatization of the park, including Save Jasper National Park From Privatization. But there's also a counterpoint from Parks Canada: Proposed Glacier Discover Walk – Setting the Record Straight.
It's all very reminiscent of the Grand Canyon Skywalk that opened in Arizona in 2007 and has been visited by more than 1.5 million people (tickets are $29.95 for adults). In Jasper, visitors will arrive at the site via a free 6.5 km shuttle bus ride from the Glacier Discovery Centre. There will be a free public viewpoint or guests may purchase a ticket for the interpretive walk along The Discovery Trail that leads to The Discovery Vista (no mention of ticket prices).
Fancy walkways and skywalks don't seem like such a good match for the grandeur of our continent. I'll stick with Mother Nature just the way she is -- au naturel.
VIA Rail Canada in Jasper, Alberta
Photo by Sue Frause