Over the past several weeks, many have spoken out in traditional media and on social media regarding the changes to the boardwalk trail at Western Brook Pond in Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland and Labrador.
Over the course of the winter, Parks Canada removed the boardwalk trail at Western Brook Pond and replaced it with a 4.8m wide hardened gravel road. This change was made without extensive public consultation and with only a Basic Impact Assessment conducted – a brief project assessment conducted by Parks Canada with no requirement to seek input from Canadians.
These changes have resulted in outcomes beyond simple rehabilitation of existing infrastructure: the development footprint of the trail has increased significantly, irreparably altering the character of the site and one of the park’s most iconic experiences.
These changes are not in keeping with Parks Canada’s commitment to all Canadians to protect the natural and cultural heritage of our special places.The Canada National Parks Act states that “Maintenance or restoration of ecological integrity, through the protection of natural resources and natural processes, shall be the first priority of the Minister when considering all aspects of the management of parks.” The drastic nature of the changes to the trail without a fulsome environmental assessment demonstrate little consideration for ecological integrity at Western Brook Pond.
The Act further states that, “The national parks of Canada are hereby dedicated to the people of Canada for their benefit, education and enjoyment, subject to this Act and the regulations, and the parks shall be maintained and made use of so as to leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” Going forward with such dramatic changes to the trail without any public consultation demonstrates poor regard for public input, transparency, and accountability by Parks Canada.
In addition to changes at Western Brook Pond, Parks Canada continues to proceed with other infrastructure upgrades and developments in Gros Morne National Park without adequate consultation with the public.
It is the responsibility of Parks Canada to maintain or restore our national parks’ ecological integrity and to keep park ecosystems unimpaired for the benefit of both current and future generations.
Gros More National Park, as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is globally valued for its outstanding universal value as an area with exceptional natural beauty. Infrastructure changes with the potential to impact this outstanding universal value require Parks Canada to proceed with the utmost caution in their planning and management. As such, extensive stakeholder consultations – with both local community members as well as with Canadians in general – should have been held to thoroughly assess the impacts at a local, national, and global scale.
CPAWS continues to work with Parks Canada to improve their management of our national parks and continues to push Parks Canada to engage Canadians on decisions of park management. The Canada National Parks Act provides legal protection for the property but strategies to address management vulnerabilities and noncompliance must be developed in cooperation with area residents as well as with other stakeholders and user groups.
CPAWS is requesting that Parks Canada:
- Halt further road development into Western Brook Pond until a detailed impact assessment and thorough public consultation has been conducted;
- Publicly release all documents which detail what research, decision-making, and evaluation processes were conducted leading up to the onset of infrastructure changes at Western Brook Pond;
- Publicly release a detailed project list showing all projects being undertaken in Gros Morne National Park that utilize federal government infrastructure monies; and
- In the future, inform and involve local residents, visitors, and interested Canadians in development projects throughout the planning, development and construction phases.
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About the changes at Western Brook Pond
Parks Canada has invested more than $3 million in infrastructure changes at Western Brook Pond over 2017-2019. These changes include facilities upgrades, expansion of the parking lot beside Route 430 by 50%, and re-construction of the iconic Western Brook Pond 3km access trail.
Western Brook Pond trail has been widened to a 4.8-metre-wide road, nearly double its original width, and hardened to allow for multi-use activities (walking, cycling, strollers, wheelchairs, etc.), transport of supplies for the boat tour operations, and emergency vehicle access. Parks Canada staff have stated that the old trail could not meet the needs of park visitors in terms of accessibility and capacity; in 2017, boat tour users accounted for 40,000 hikers on this trail, a 46% increase since 2013.