Parks Canada begins the zoning plan

Not only is Lake Minnewanka far enough away from the city's light pollution, but the scenic location also offers beautiful views of the mountains and lake used in night sky photography.  (Paul Zizka - photo credit)

Not only is Lake Minnewanka far enough away from the city’s light pollution, but the scenic location also offers beautiful views of the mountains and lake used in night sky photography. (Paul Zizka – photo credit)

Parks Canada wants to stay ahead of what’s coming for the Lake Minnewanka area – as it faces increasing visitor popularity and continues to be an important habitat for grizzly bears, Rocky Mountain sheep, moose and aquatic life.

Nestled within Banff National Park, this area has seen a 50 percent increase in visitors over the past decade, and about 1 million people flock to the various attractions to recreate them. Whether you’re swimming in Two Jack Lake, picnicking at the Cascade Ponds, camping in the backcountry or boating on Minnewanka Lake itself.

“We will always be governed by our mandate, and our mandate states that ecological integrity is our first priority,” said Sal Rasheed, Superintendent of Banff National Park. “The plan will include elements for managing visitor usage and how we do that needs to be established…the art is to do it in a way that contributes to the visitor experience and isn’t seen as limiting.”

The Banff National Park Management Plan included a goal to develop a Lake Minnewanka area plan and Strategic Environmental Assessment by 2024.

This week, mayors, provincial officials, tourism officials, conservationists and Indigenous leaders gathered at Banff National Park’s 23rd Annual Planning Forum to provide feedback and ideas to Parks Canada as it begins work on the plan that will shape the future of this region .

This plan will be a balancing act. Parks Canada explained to stakeholders that Minnewanka’s history is history for indigenous peoples and for the park. It’s also a place of limitless recreational opportunities, but it’s also a place where visitor safety can be an issue, with easy access to alpine features and wildlife coexistence challenges.

David Fanon

David Fanon

“The fact that there continue to be wildlife populations there, human use, coexistence, yes there are always instances in our park system where you have negative interactions, but generally wildlife and aquariums and vegetation continue to be robust at this site,” said Rashid.

Several indigenous rights holders sat at the table and stressed that protocols must be followed before any plans are made.

Minnewanka takes its name from the Stoney people. Minn-waki means lake of spirits. Access and integrity of land and water in this area are of vital importance to tribal peoples.

Restoring traditional indigenous uses, some said, could be regenerative.

The Wildlife Corridor and the health of the water in the Lake Minnewanka area are of concern to Mike Oka, the Blood Tribe Advisory Coordinator.

“How can we, how do we mitigate this?” ok said. “Are we crowding out wildlife or finding an alternative route for humans? So that is the question now.”

Oka said in terms of water health and keeping swirling diseases free, that’s also an issue.

Paul Ziska

Paul Ziska

In broad terms, Rasheed said this plan will outline how to maintain ecological integrity and memorial integrity while managing visitors, education and mass transportation.

“I’ll start by saying that every place is different, what we did at Moraine Lake doesn’t necessarily have to be what happens at Lake Minnewanka,” Rasheed said. “There have been some expressions of interest in doing something similar there, but we’re just getting started with Lake Minnewanka and need to first flesh out the scope before looking at tactics.”

He emphasized that this process is still in its early stages and nothing has been decided yet, so he has all of Parks Canada’s visitor management tools at his disposal.

Around the table during the planning forum, tourism and recreation stakeholders raised concerns that closing Moraine Lake to private vehicles could leave Minnewanka vulnerable to impacts.

Some are concerned about the impact on changes to Moraine access

“There are always unintended impacts,” said Debbie Harsken of the Association of Mountain Park Protection and Enjoyment (AMPPE). “They’re closing Moraine, they’re going to go elsewhere. So with demand increasing and less available space, we have a lot to worry about that they’re going to have an even bigger impact.”

Many user groups and tourism organizations want visitor access to be maintained through better planning and infrastructure improvements.

Some head to this area to photograph the Northern Lights late at night, or strap on cross-country skis for a midnight spin — the hope is that better management can keep these types of experiences available to Minnewanka visitors.

Canadian press

Canadian press

“If people don’t connect with nature, they don’t learn how to protect nature,” Harsken said. “The discussions of the last few days have shown that these places are nothing special. They speak to a place deep inside people.”

The Lake Minnewanka Area Plan is just beginning this year. The next steps include developing a plan and engaging stakeholders. Then, in 2024, a draft will be shared with the public, and Parks Canada will solicit input from Canadians at that time. The plan should finally be ready for implementation in 2025.


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