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Published on May 15, 2012
I stopped by the Columbia Icefield Centre in Jasper National Park twice, on May 9 and May 11, 2012. These visits to what, 25 years ago, would have been a facility still moth-balled for winter, revealed high commerce and broken exhibits. Access to the "free" exhibits was not available on one of these days. Parks Canada, co-owner of the building, had no representative on-site in the middle of each business day. For many visitors, travelling from Banff and returning on day-trips, a private company is providing their only contact with Jasper National Park.
This is the shape of things to come as the Canadian government privatizes national parks. Meanwhile, across the Icefields Parkway, 3-4 times each hour, Brewster Transportation's "Ice Explorers" ply an ice-road, ploughed for their use on the surface of the Athabasca Glacier. Apparently, it's not only the exhibits that are broken; there's a profound crack in the logic, too. The Athabasca Glacier is the most accessible alpine valley glacier in North America and also embodies one of the better-documented examples of glacial retreat in the world, with photos and measurements going back a century. The principal cause of glacial retreat is a warming climate. A principal cause of a warming climate is the greenhouse effect. Operating diesel-powered vehicles on the very surface of a supposedly "protected" glacier would seem to imply no corporate or government agency acceptance of this reality, no responsibility in contributing to elements of the equation, and no desire to mitigate the resulting effect.
Jasper National Park is broken and will remain so until the Canadian government throttles back on partnering with business, and Parks Canada follows its legislated mandate to place landscape protection and preservation above commerce. Stay tuned for Part 2.