2017 is the 150th anniversary of Canada, and all National Parks are free for the year!
I have already ordered my Discovery Pass and I am very excited to spend as much time as possible in the National Parks this year.
The National Parks were created for preservation of habitats, wildlife and ecosystem diversity, with an eye to preserve that which is most unique in each of our natural regions. They range vastly in size from 14 km2 to almost 45,000 km2. The total area protected is roughly 300,000 km2 or 3% of the entire country.
The system began in 1885, when a portion of land was set aside for public use – the Cave and Basin Hot Springs, the beginning of what is now known as Banff National Park. It grew in bursts, beginning with sectioning off more pieces of land for the public, until eventually an organization was created to combine these spaces and create new ones.
I have been telling friends and family about the free park passes in order to share this awesome occurrence with as many people as possible. I have already begun planning on visiting new parks, and more parks than usual, due to this deal.
What I did not anticipate was the backlash. The nature gatekeepers, if you will. The people who commented under articles about this opportunity that their favourite places will be ‘ruined’ and that there will be a wave of ‘city’ people, tainting the parks, making a mess or otherwise behaving in an unfit manner.
I have met amazing, friendly, lovely, outdoorsy people. I meet them while hiking, or camping, or biking, or enjoying a nature trail at a sedate rate. Everyone is always so energized and happy to be outside, to enjoy our abundance of nature, to make the most of our beautiful country and our occasional good weather.
It was upsetting to see that so many people have this ‘us’ or ‘them’ mentality. Not everyone is lucky enough to have the free time and funds to frequently visit parks. Some people just don’t feel the need to go very often, but will take advantage of the lack of fees to spend some time there this year. Regardless, the parks are for everyone – and hopefully an increase in interactions with the parks will continue to inspire people to protect what we currently have for future generations.
According to Parks Canada: “[Parks] are protected for public understanding, appreciation and enjoyment, while being maintained in an unimpaired state for future generations.”
Note the first aspect is understanding. People can’t appreciate or enjoy what they do not know or experience. The second aspect is what worries others – that uncaring droves of tourists might mess up the parks. There will always be people to whom the state of our natural world is not a priority but they are vastly outnumbered not only by those who do care, but by those who simply do not know what it is they should be protecting. Those people deserve a chance to explore the parks and get to see what’s around them.
While some parks have experienced a decrease in visitors, overall there has been an upward trend. The number of people who used the parks (including the marine areas and reserves) in 2010-2011 was 12,529,627. Last year that number rose to 14,469,008.
Crowds are not fun for anyone. But I’d like to think the majority of people are encouraging newcomers to come see what the Parks have to offer, instead of chasing them away with the idea that only a limited number of people should have the privilege to be there.