Kootenay-Columbia MP David Wilks was in Field on May 21 to talk and listen to the concerns of residents over the cutbacks announced by Parks Canada, and how they are going to change the way of life in the small town.
The Parks Canada visitor reception centre in Field will now be closed during the winter months, and along with this, the agency will no longer groom cross-country ski trails in Yoho National Park.
One of the main questions given to Wilks dealt with what the future is going to be in a town where tourism is the main business and the local people feel they have little say on what can happen in the town.
After being introduced Wilks explained he came to the town not to reverse any decision that was made by Parks Canada, but he did want to hear the concerns of the people and take them back to the Minister of Environment, Peter Kent, who overseas Parks Canada.
“The bottom line for Parks Canada is where people are going and how much people are spending. What I see as a member of Parliament for you is trying to create a town where you want to live. Where you could survive somewhat independent of national parks. I think there is a way of doing that,” Wilks said.
The first item discussed at the meeting was the cuts that led to the closure of the Visitor’s Centre for the winter months.
The first point brought up by those people in attendance was that losing those jobs hurts everyone in the community.
Over and over residents said this was going to be detrimental to local businesses who get a great deal of traffic from customers who stop into the centre and are told about the services in town.
Many business owners say they would lose between 45 and 50 per cent of their business during the winter months if the centre was not open.
Another source of confusion for the residents of the town was why the bathrooms at the centre were going to be open without any staff working daily at the site. Those in attendance felt that having the building heated for one small section was not cost effective and did not make any sense.
Residents also were concerned about the safety factor for people travelling on the highway. They felt not having a place to give out safety information or a place for people to stop during road closure was unsafe.
Field resident Susan Williamson pointed out as an example that people who come to stay at her guest house who want to go ice climbing will now have to go to Lake Louise to get information about conditions. She described this as being a farce and insult to the people in the community.
A point of contention for the residents is fact that Parks Canada will not groom the cross country ski trails. People at the meeting explained up to three years ago there was a volunteer group who had looked after the trails for twenty years. People were upset because these trails were taken over by Parks Canada three years ago only to say now they will not look after them any more.
Many people were upset because this activity is seen as being a major part of the tourist industry in town during the winter.
The people reiterated many people who go to Banff and Lake Louise do come into Field to try somewhere new and end up using restaurants and other facilities.
Some business owners said these type of cutbacks, if they had been known previously, could have changed their decision to open a business in a place which in their opinion will be shut down eight months of the year.
The business people in attendance said that Parks Canada need to focus not only on what can be done to bring in tourists both in the summer and winter like they have been doing for a number of years.
At the end of the meeting Wilks said he felt that national parks have to be seen “as preservation as opposed to conservation. To me this is hugely different. Preservation means no access, conservation means reasonable access. I think we need to got to conservation. This (the area) is everyone’s and people should have access.”
After being asked what he felt the people in Field should do Wilks said the town should pick the most important issue and work towards rectifying this situation first.
“I look at this from the perspective of a former mayor. I always said to the citizens of Sparwood come to me with the answer. Do not come to me with more problems. Be reasonable with your answer,” he said. “Explain you are not maxed out in the winter and we could do more but the only way to make that happen to to have that (the visitors centre) stay open.”
Wilks said when he went back to Ottawa he would take their concerns to Kent and invite him (this was not a commitment that Kent would come) to head to Field so he could have a face to face discussion with the residents.