Some residents near Riding Mountain National Park are still upset with the government’s decision to cut some winter services at the park.
“The decision to cut winter services at the majority of national parks across the country is a terrible mistake,” said Celes Davar, a business owner in Onanole. “It doesn’t recognize the importance of winter tourism to rural communities where most of our parks are located.”
Local cross-country skiers and business owners voiced their concerns over the federal government’s decision to cut cross-country trail grooming at Riding Mountain National Park at a meeting on Wednesday in Onanole.
“My goal of the meeting was to get people together to think about getting a group of volunteers together to groom the ski trails,” said Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette Conservative MP Robert Sopuck, who hosted the meeting.
Although the meeting was to be focused on alternative methods of getting the trails groomed, which will need to start for next winter, Sopuck said some of the people in attendance were still upset with the government’s decision to eliminated the service.
“Whenever a government goes through a budgetary reduction exercise, there is always going to be things involved that people don’t like,” Sopuck said, estimating that there was 90 people in attendance. “There were people there that didn’t like that Parks Canada will not be maintaining the trails anymore and I’m not going to hide that. Any time a service is changed that people are used to it’s difficult.”
Sopuck, who cross-country skis himself, said he would pass the group’s concerns to the minster of environment.
He also said he would look into federal grants available to offset some of the cost of the grooming, in the case that some of the work can be contracted out, but he was also steadfast in his support of the cuts that the government implemented with the advice of Parks Canada.
“The budgetary reductions were a package of recommendations from Parks Canada, which included the issue of winter trail maintenance,” Sopuck said.
He believes there is an excellent opportunity to take over the service through the use of volunteers.
“Parks Canada equipment will be made available to volunteers,” Sopuck said.
“The parks have the groomers and the snow mobiles and the volunteer group will have access to that equipment.”
Davar, president of tourist company Earth Rhythms, believes it’s unfair to ask an already taxed volunteer base to take over a service that requires a set of unique skills.
“That is an inappropriate solution,” Davar said. “To offload a government service onto volunteers presents a number of problems.”
Those problems include liability issues, according to Davar, who said it was unfair to ask volunteers to operate heavy equipment, chainsaws and other tools necessary to maintain the trail system.
Davar is also concerned about the message that reducing services sends to tourists who come to the park for a winter experience and regular park-goers — both of who pay for services through fees collected by the park.
“The message is that the park is closed in the winter time,” Davar said.
“There is a number of small business that does primarily most of our business in the winter months that are going to face tough decisions in how we market ourselves. We are going to struggle to overcome the perception that the park is closed in the winter time.”
Earth Rhythms, which is catered toward corporate groups, deal with between 200 to 400 people coming to the park each winter, according to Davar, and although not all of those people use the trail system, cross-country skiing is one selling feature that several companies use to market themselves near the park.
Jackie Good, a member of the Westman Wilderness Club, also attended the meeting and wished that more time was spent on discussing what alternatives can be implemented to ensure the trails continue to be groomed.
“It was almost unfair because we didn’t spend much time discussing what some of our options are,” Good said.
“The park is our gem and it’s right in our backyard and we have to protect it.”
Good is hoping that volunteers do step up to continue the grooming service.
A second consultation meeting was held Thursday night in Dauphin.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition August 10, 2012