Icefields Trail (North) Multiple-Use Trail Concept – Jasper National Park 2017

Open House – Public Consultation Session on the Icefields Trail (North) Concept

Friday, March 17 at 7:00 pm
Banff Park Lodge, Banff

Parks Canada will be holding public information session on the 87 million dollar “proposed” new Jasper to Lake Louise bike trail. BVN has a number of concerns with the proposed trail although it’s been challenging for us, as the project has been continually changing and information has been and continues to be scarce. The trail as originally proposed was a “paved Legacy Trail style, family friendly, world class hiking/biking/ski trail” running from Jasper Townsite to the Columbia Icefield. The proposal has since morphed into a 200km paved Jasper to Lake Louise trail, at a cost of 87 million dollars, which will cover the design for the entire route but with only sufficient funding to actually build the Jasper/Icefield portion. As currently proposed, the trail will use parts of the old highway roadbed alignment and for the most part, be located 20 to 30 meters from the current highway, within the historically cleared right of way.

And of course, left unsaid, just as there is little point ending a bike trail at the Icefield, it’s unlikely that the trail will end in Lake Louise. There will unquestionably be pressure to create another bike trail adjacent to the Bow Valley Parkway, linking up with the Legacy Trail. Also left unstated is the accommodation infrastructure required for these users, especially if it’s promoted as multi use trail with hikers. The current campgrounds and youth hostels are too far apart with limited accommodation space.

Parks Canada’s rationale for investing in one of its most expensive non-highway infrastructure projects in its history hinges on the concept of 1) improved safety for bike riders, 2) family friendly recreational opportunities and 3) a vague commitment in the Park Management Plan that hinted at improved opportunities for cycling on the Icefields Parkway. BVN’s views are as follows:

It will not necessarily be safer. Parks Canada has not supplied any numbers to support their assertion that riding on the existing wide shoulder is unsafe. Given that thousands of cyclists a season ride this road with virtually no accidents, the safety argument doesn’t seem to hold much water. Comparisons with the truly family friendly Legacy Trail are simply false. The Legacy Trail operates within a fenced highway corridor, safely separated from wildlife, in close proximity to amenities, with cell phone coverage, multiple start and stop points and to emergency services. Unlike the proposed Jasper/Lake Louise trail, it is not subject to bear safety issues, mud flows, rock fall, avalanches, severe high elevation mountain weather and the danger of adjacent roaring rivers. Any one of these latter factors should be enough to exclude the “family friendly” label.

We’re still puzzled how “improved opportunities for cycling” translated into what amounts to “highway twinning lite”, and the more realistic expenditure of well over 1/10 of a billion dollars for the entire project. Most of us would have assumed that “improved opportunities for cycling” on this already popular bike touring route, would have meant actually maintaining the existing shoulder (which has been allowed to deteriorate from historically repaving the driving lanes only), improved food storage for cyclists at campgrounds, walk-in camp sites for cyclist’s only and improved signage. One only has to look at a signature cycle touring route such as the Oregon Coast Road (which doesn’t even have a shoulder) to see how a positive cycling experience can be created.

We are deeply concerned about the potential impact on bears and human safety. Riders will be biking through “bear central”. The narrow valley and high elevation snow tends to concentrate bears in the valley bottom during the short summer season between June and late August. Roadside bear sightings are typically in the hundreds of observations per year and this number is likely only tip of the iceberg as there is no cell coverage or easy means of communication on this stretch of road. What are the implications for bears and people? Habitat displacement for wary bears along with increased mortality for less wary bears and more opportunity for bear human/human injury. Two heavily travelled parallel roads/trails creates a made to order recipe for conflict, with the potential for riders to push a surprised bear into traffic or worse, roadside bear jams pushing a disturbed bear into a cyclist path. From both a bear and rider safety perspective, it’s safer for cyclists to ride on the existing shoulder than it will be to ride on the proposed trail.

And lastly, a 200 km long linear feature such as this will remove a tremendous amount of critical valley bottom habitat. Even taking into account only the minimal possible clearing width of the trail, a million square meters or one square kilometre of habitat will be lost, at a calculation of 200,000 meter length x 4.5 meter trail width (includes 1.0 meter clearing width either side of the trail.) This does not include the significantly larger amount of fragmented habitat that will be potentially lost between the trail and the road (think twinning with a 20 to 30 meter highway median), the habitat displaced as a result of increased human activity or the massive amounts of gravel that will be excavated to provide the paved trail base.

Given all the impacts, for a trail that will likely operate at best 4 months of the year and will be difficult to maintain and recapitalize, is this the best use of taxpayers’ dollars? Think what could be accomplished with +87 million dollars both ecologically and for visitor experience? Improved visitor transportation, the relocation of existing trails in sensitive valley bottom bear habitat onto scenic ridges with less impact, improved camping opportunities for cyclists, wildlife/vehicle mitigations on the Kootenay Parkway? Isn’t a project of this magnitude of interest to all Canadians? Shouldn’t consultation be national rather than local and regional?
Our position is that cycling in national parks is a great carbon-friendly way for visitors to connect with nature but not in the manner being proposed. Widening or just even maintaining the existing shoulder would provide a greater degree of comfort for cyclists, provide for better views, increase both bear and visitor safety, be significantly cheaper to construct and from an ecological perspective, greatly reduces the amount of habitat lost. Please make your voices heard during the public consultation phase.

For more information on the project and to provide feedback online, go to:

http://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/ab/jasper/info/plan/sentierdesglaciers-icefieldstrail

 

RB 03/09/2017