Occupy Kejimkujik this weekend

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By Tom Sheppard

Word is that there are Occupy Winter events going on at national parks in Canada this Saturday and Sunday. The events are an effort to show how much people love our national parks in what is called the Fourth Season.

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At Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site - the only national park combined with a national historic site in Canada - people will show up to express their support for the park being open all year, as it has been since it was founded, until this year. There has been talk about having the Mill Falls picnic shelter open and heated, and people who attend should bring their own warm drinks and clothing.

On a national level, there are plans to have winter events in other national parks this weekend. In Riding Mountain National Park, in Manitoba, there will be winter activities like skiing, winter games and relay races. The park is one of the many that have been shut down in the winter by budget restrictions enforced by the federal government.

The weekend events coincide with an online petition to have the government reconsider its seasonal shutting down of the national park system. All but three are now closed for the winter, in a country that needs to celebrate cold weather activities, not lock people out of the places where there are facilities for such activities.

The petition, which comes after a petition this fall to keep Kejimkujik National Park open all year (one that garnered more than 5,600 signatures, a major show of support), explains that the decision to close the parks in the winter was made without public consultation and has had impacts that have been "widespread and unfortunate."

It says that winter services in national parks were eliminated, staff were reduced, the grooming of cross-country ski trails was eliminated, and winter facilities were no longer maintained. (In Kejimkujik, the lack of services actually lasts for more than half of the year.)

The petition asks four things of the government, all of them reasonable and sensible. It asks first that government reverse the decision to establish three-season national parks and establish a consultative process with Canadians to determine how best to re-establish winter services in each national park.

Secondly, because Canada is "a country that is distinctly northern, has snow, and has a rich and long tradition of cross-country skiing, watching wildlife, snowshoeing and winter activities," that the country use this distinct market identity as a part of how we promote the Fourth Season as a time for winter tourism, healthy exercise and appreciation of nature and wildness in winter. This would include active community celebrations of our national parks in winter, new revenues, new marketing opportunities and an educational program.

Third, that a core level of park staff be established to create, deliver and market winter recreational services. This would include education, interpretation and winter science and environmental monitoring. This group would collaborate with local community tourism businesses and organizations with which it would partner to deliver these services.

The fourth recommendation addresses funds and notes that the annual park admission fee includes access to trails, facilities and winter services that Parks Canada has always been providing, and for which park users pay. Parks should continue to include the costs of winter services within park admission fees, and additional revenues in winter should be used to help offset budgetary deficits.

Winter visitors, the petition notes, are the people who love winter sports, skiing, snowshoeing or wildlife viewing. "They are some of the strongest supporters of our national parks and include urban enthusiasts, as well as many residents from surrounding communities next to national parks." They come in smaller numbers, so the petition asks that revenues be collected in winter, and that partnerships should be made with local tourism businesses to offer the "quintessential winter experience in Canada, to include winter as a distinct season of programming and activities for all national parks."    

The petition was initially created by a Manitoba tourism operator named Celes Davar, and has received extensive coverage on the Internet. It is hardly the work of radicals, and deserves support. Its associated events, the Occupy Winter gatherings (including the one at Kejimkujik), likewise deserve support. To sign the petition, go to change.org and search for "restore winter services in all national parks."

When Kejimkujik was established in the 1960s, land was taken from local landowners through expropriation. In an effort to salve the wounds, people in the area were told by the government that these lands would be available to all in perpetuity, for their enjoyment and recreation. Now that people feel locked out of them for more than half of the year, there is a feeling of betrayal.

- Tom Sheppard can be reached at twsheppard@gmail.com




Organizations: Parks Canada

Geographic location: Kejimkujik, Canada, Kejimkujik National Park Manitoba Riding Mountain National Park

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