Hotel: No, Tent Accommodations: Yes Parks Canada approves Maligne Lake Tours' proposal for tent cabins, rejects roofed accommodations
Parks Canada has accepted Maligne Tours' concept for redevelopment at Maligne Lake but with a considerable omission: there will be no hotel at the iconic Jasper National Park lake.
But critics are still disappointed that the federal agency is willing to consider overnight accommodations; the decision allows Maligne Tours to advance the concept of erecting heritage tent-style cabins.
"[The tent cabins] are smaller in scope and scale," Jasper National Park Superintendent Greg Fenton said. "We have the potential to reverse the decision if we find there is detrimental impact on wildlife, unlike a hotel which would be a little bit harder to reverse."
If Maligne Tours decides to advance the proposal, the tent cabins, plus 12 other elements of the proposal which were approved—including new specialty boat tours, a “Fisherman’s Special” water taxi service to Spirit Island, themed exhibits and a thatch-walled, wildlife-themed exploratory maze—would then be subject to a more detailed review including an environmental impact assessment, and public and Aboriginal review, prior to a final determination by Parks Canada.
"[The proposal] has the potential to support Parks Canada's and the Government of Canada's national conservation plan," Fenton said.
Advancing the tent cabins concept would also trigger a park management plan amendment to allow for release of necessary lands. Critics argue that this amendment would go against the current management plan which says that no new land will be released for overnight commercial accommodation (OCAs) outside the community.
"This opens up an horrendous precedent for other national parks," the Jill Seaton, of the Jasper Environmental Association, said.
Former Banff National Park Superintendent Kevin Van Tighem agreed. He said the decision undoes 30 years of policy development intended to protect national parks from real estate speculation.
"It's an unfortunate decision for Maligne lake but even more so for the floodgates it has opened," Van Tighem said.
Fenton defended the decision as one which will help Canadians get to know their national parks. He said the amendment to park policy would not necessarily set a precedent for development in Jasper and other parks. "It doesn't have direct applicability in terms of other management plans for Parks Canada because we don't take a cookie cutter approach to management plans," he said. He added that the legislative framework is very clear—and the reason why a hotel was not approved at Maligne Lake. Van Tighem said he believes Canadians have been betrayed by what almost certainly a political decision.
"[This represents the] biggest disaster in national parks in decades," Van Tighem said . Maligne Tours' Pat Crowley said the company is happy to have had so much of our proposal meet with conceptual approval. "There remains much work to do to advance all of this through the next stages and we are keen to see the new Terms of Reference from Parks Canada," she said.