Mountain News: Flat. Out. Awesome — or unacceptable 

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JASPER, Alberta — "Flat. Out. Awesome." So says the website in describing the Glacier Skywalk, which is to open next year between Lake Louise and Jasper, just off the Icefields Parkway.

Flat. Out. Unacceptable. That seems to be the opinion of an advisory board to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee.

The transparent-bottomed walkway would allow customers to look through their feet into the depths of Sunwapata Canyon 30 metres (100 feet) below. According to the promotional material on the website of Banff-based Brewster Travel, the developer, it will offer "one of the very few opportunities for a barrier-free wilderness experience in Canada's mountain national parks."

Cost is to be $25, and Brewster says customers are "likely to see hundreds of species."

A similar transparent horseshoe-shaped cantilevered bridge opened at the Grand Canyon in 2007. The skywalk is 150 metres to 240 metres directly above rocks in the canyon, but allows a less restrained view of the canyon and the Colorado River 1,200 metres below.

The $31 million project was developed by a Las Vegas businessman, David Jin, in partnership with the Hualapai Nation, the 2,000-member First Nation that owns the land along the canyon rim.

A reporter for the BBC, a British media agency, said the glass beneath his feet was so clear it was like walking on a cloud. U.S. astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin said it wasn't quite like floating on air "but a vision of hope for the future."

But some environmentalists and National Park Service officials called it a defacement of Grand Canyon National Park.

In Alberta, there's a similar reaction. The UNESCO advisory board says that Glacier Skywalk in Jasper National Park and the recently authorized four-season use of Norquay, the ski area near the town of Banff, pose a high threat to the ecological integrity of national parks.

The Jasper Fitzhugh talked with local critic Kim Wallace, who said that the draft assessment of the UNESCO advisory group confirms her thoughts. "It doesn't belong in a national park, and now there's an international organization affirming my gut-feeling," she said.

Greg Fenton, superintendent of Jasper National Park, told the Fitzhugh that he stands by his decision to allow the 400-metre walk. "I don't see the skywalk being in opposition to or fundamentally creating problems with the designation or the attributes that led to the designation."

In fact, said Fenton, the skywalk will "enhance the opportunities for people to learn about the natural environment and the elements of the world heritage site, (like) glaciation, which was a fundamental or very important element that led to the designation."

Brewster says the current pullout for motorists is "underwhelming." The viewpoint offers a staggering look at the Sunwapta Canyon, but its current amenities don't give travellers much reason to stop.

Telus expands info highway in Jasper

JASPER, Alberta — Despite its location in a national park, the town of Jasper is located on a major railway, a major highway, and a major pipeline. Why shouldn't it also be on a major information highway?

The Fitzhugh reports that Telus is investing $400,0000 to enhance broadband Internet, 4G, and 4G LTE wireless networks in Jasper. The company has invested $1.2 million in new technology and infrastructure in Jasper since 2011.

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