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Plan leaked for lodges in provincial parks

Garibaldi Park on list, could have lodge of up to 80 beds

Documents leaked by a concerned civil servant to an environmental group suggest that the B.C. government intends to allow up to 10 new lodges in provincial parks, each with a capacity of up to 80 beds.

The list of parks includes Garibaldi Park, which is accessible from Squamish, Whistler and Pemberton, and is one of the largest parks in the province covering 195,000 hectares.

Included in the leaked documents was the B.C. Parks Lodge Strategy, which included plans to recruit investors as well as a list of parks that were candidates for the lodges.

According to Anne Sherrod of the Valhalla Wilderness Society, the group that broke the story Wednesday, the issue is not the lodges – which were expected – but the way the province is proceeding.

"When the government changed the Park Act in 2003 to allow lodges, we saw what was coming, but we expected some kind of public process to go with it. These are public parks after all," said Sherrod.

"It’s one thing for the government to open the parks to development and sit back and listen to proposals for lodges, which is what we expected, and it’s quite another to recruit investors.

"What we’ve found out is that there has been an advisory group working on this, looking at ways to find those investors, that we knew nothing about. When the details became know to us, we were shocked by what was being proposed.

"Right now 10 parks are slated to be developed and there’s nothing in there to suggest that that’s where it will end. We’ve never seen anything like this before."

The amendments to the B.C. Park Act have called on the parks to raise more revenue in order to cover the provinces rising maintenance costs. According to the B.C. Liberal government, the preceding NDP government created several new parks without consideration for how those parks should be funded.

Revenue from the lodges, as well as initiatives such as pay parking and user fees, will go towards B.C. Parks budget.

The lodges were also intended to make the parks more accessible to visitors that are elderly or families that wouldn’t ordinarily camp or hike in the wilderness.

Other parks on the list include:

• Brighton Archipelago Marine Park at the north end of Vancouver Island.

• Cultus Lake, which is located near Chilliwack.

• Elk Lakes, which is located in southern B.C. near the Alberta border.

• Hamber, which is located near Jasper Provincial Park.

• Maxhamish Lake, located north of Fort Nelson

• Mount Assiniboine in the Canadian Rockies, southwest of Banff

• Mount Robson, which is located to the west of Jasper

• South Chilcotin, to the north of Whistler in the Gold Bridge area (Spruce Lake will likely be the building site)

• Valhalla, located to the north of Castelgar and Slocan

"Of course they picked some of our most beautiful parks, and they’re going to pick the most beautiful sites within those parks," said Sherrod.

According to the documents, the government hopes to identify the exact locations for the lodges in the summer, and to have developers signed on by the winter. That doesn’t give the public much time, Sherrod says, even with the early leak of the documents.

The provincial government suggested that Valhalla Wilderness Society was misrepresenting their plans, but defended the concept to build new lodges in provincial parks.

"We are not building mini-Whistler’s all over the province," said Bill Barisoff, Minister of Land, Water and Air Protection in a CBC interview. "It’s a matter of creating access. It’s a matter of building access to parks for senior and families."

Sherrod says the documents also suggest that the government is actively selling the lodge opportunities, which will likely result in foreign ownership and investment in the lodges from the U.S., Europe and Japan.

"I compare this to what happened with the logging industry, with multinational forest companies gradually taking over control of our public forests. Except in this case it will be multinational hotel owners, and one day they could be calling the shots on our parks," said Sherrod.

Rather than allowing for-profit lodges, Sherrod believes that any lodges created should be owned, at least partially, by the public to ensure proper management of public lands.

The Western Canada Wilderness Committee was also suspicious of the government’s plans.

"We were flabbergasted when we saw the documents," said Gwen Barlee, the policy director for the WCWC. "There has been absolutely no public consultation on this – none.

"We are really concerned that this initiative will confer property rights to developers.

Eva Riccius of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society agreed. "For-profit lodges should be located outside of parks, near communities where they will provide economic benefits for those communities. With lodges in parks come problems with more roads, power infrastructure, waste water, garbage disposal, staff housing, and concerns with appropriate types of recreation. It’s a slippery slope toward privatization – big outside money means big outside control."