Posted by: friendsofstrathcona | April 26, 2010

Strathcona : A Park For All Activities? (by Karl Stevenson)

This is the fifth in a series of articles about Strathcona Park. My last article contained an error. I wrote that a permit had already been granted for commercial horse use in the park. This isn’t true. The permit has not yet been granted.

One of the main things that the original Strathcona Park Master Plan called for was: minimal human impact. Most people seem to realize that a wilderness park, unlike many other kinds of parks, is meant to be a place which is affected as little as possible by humans. They understand that many human activities must be excluded from the park, if we expect the park to retain its intended value.

Before the Master Plan came into being, a large number of detrimental activities were allowed in the park. Mining, logging, and the damming of lakes are clear examples of this, and the effects still remain to shock park visitors, but the detrimental aspects of several other types of human activities are less immediately obvious. Campfires, particularly in the sparsely vegetated alpine zones, where small trees take hundreds of years to grow, have adversely affected many formerly beautiful areas. Airplane landings regularly shattered the peace of remote mountain lakes, and large piles of garbage were left behind to despoil lake shores. Prospectors, looking for minerals, left blast holes and abandoned shacks, as well as rusting fuel drums and other trash. The Master Plan, which was the result of years of work by a concerned public, addressed these issues and many others, and Strathcona finally had a chance to become a wilderness park worthy of the name.

A wilderness park can be extremely valuable to many people, but the value isn’t measured in dollars. In fact, through history, attempts to extract money from the park have inevitably resulted in significant damage to park values. In a society such as ours, where almost everything revolves around money, this is sometimes hard for people to accept. Those who’ve spent large amounts of money on “go anywhere” vehicles want places to use them. They want to drive their snowmobiles, ATVs, and other toys into the park. They want to ride their bicycles and horses. They want to “see” what a hiker sees. They have a hard time comprehending that high impact modes of travel will quickly destroy what others find by travelling quietly on foot.

The idea that our methods of looking will destroy the very thing we’re looking for, is very hard to convey. It’s like looking for silence while listening to music. Silence exists naturally, and doesn’t cost a cent, but it can be very hard to find, and it’s incredibly easy to destroy. Yet its value, for many people, is beyond words. So it is with Strathcona Park. The park exists naturally, and came to us with no price tag. Finding value in the park requires effort, and it’s very easy to destroy. Yet the value, for many, is beyond words.

A wilderness park like Strathcona serves a special purpose. Its greatest values are found by people who move slowly and quietly, under their own power. It deserves to be disturbed as little as possible by those who use it, otherwise it loses worth for those who follow. Even human feet cause damage, but, if we want to allow human access to the park, foot travel is as close to minimal human impact as we can get. Conscientious park users do their best to step lightly, in all ways. If we “open the park up” to high impact modes of travel, the park will suffer greatly. It’s not that these modes of travel are “bad”, it’s just that they don’t belong in a wilderness park like Strathcona.

As things stand, people who want to practice high impact activities, including horse riding, have few places to go. Rather than allowing these activities into provincial parks like Strathcona, perhaps it’s time for us to designate some crown land where these activities can legitimately take place.

Recently, the provincial government did some serious monkeying with the Strathcona Park Master Plan, and opened the possibility for at least one high impact activity, namely commercial horse use, to be allowed in Strathcona Park. It took a lot of time and trouble to force these unwelcome changes through, against strong public opinion, and it cost them (yes, that means us) a lot of money. It all began when a wealthy resort owner wanted to run a commercial horse operation into the park, and the Strathcona Master Plan didn’t allow it. The Master Plan obviously means nothing to this government, and that’s very bad news for the park.

The wording of the Master Plan is, unfortunately, now in the process of being substantially changed, and the government will likely soon grant a permit to the resort. There is nothing “bad” about horse use, commercial or otherwise, and nothing “bad” about other high impact activities, in the proper place. A rain forest valley in Strathcona Park is decidedly not the proper place, and commercial horse use is far beyond any possible definition of minimal human impact.

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