The 2010 Winter Olympics are sited as the impetus behind the recent British Columbia Ministry of Environment announcement welcoming development in 12 BC Parks to further attract tourism.

Some residents and non-government groups concerned about Olympic-driven and, therefore, short-term change designed to boost tourism question the long-term environmental impact of this new development frontier. For instance, one development target is remote Cape Scott Park on the North Coast trail at the northwestern tip of Vancouver Island. This hike-in park lies many kilometers from the nearest community and is not accessible, nor of interest, to everyone -- its greatest attraction to most users!

BC environmental groups and local media like The Vancouver Sun raised concerns that this request for in-park development proposals is the thin edge of the wedge that would later lead to even larger hotels than the reported maximum of 100 rooms and that would require roads, sewage plants and other violations of these pristine, natural environments. Concerns were also raised over the government's consideration of helipads with some of these facilities, particularly since helicopter services seem to add affordability issues.

British Columbia, with more than 600 parks and a total protected land base of more than 13 million hectares, or about 13.8 per cent of the province, reportedly has "the largest parks and protected areas system in North America." Development has been limited to about 160 existing fixed-roof accommodation facilities, many simple shelters, but a few resort accommodations such as the year-round 41-room Manning Park Lodge in southern BC.

The apparent turn-about on BC's touted reputation for giving its "sea to sky" natural environment a high priority raises a range of real estate related issues, with positive and negative impact depending on your perspective:

  • Developers now have new resort opportunities in unique natural locations.
  • Some vacationers, tourists and recreational users may have access to park terrains they previously considered inaccessible.
  • Regular wilderness park users may feel the environments they love have been compromised.
  • Those who moved to BC (or stayed there) because they found the environmental protection policies compatible with their lifestyle may question the future of BC's sensitive natural areas.
  • Residents concerned about short-term Olympic-driven policy changes may question the long-term impact of the drive to open new tourism markets.
  • Canadians may wonder just how protected their provincial, territorial and national parks are from changing government development policies.

Currently, recreational development grows up around parks. For instance, the Pacific Rim National Park on the west coast of Vancouver Island is bordered by multi-million dollar resorts which lie outside the natural reserve. Environment Minister Barry Penner stressed that opening the parks to developers is a move towards increasing accessibility to more citizens: "Parks play a vital role in conservation, but parks are also for people. The population is getting older, and not everyone who stays in a park wants to sleep on the ground in a tent anymore. We want to provide a great parks experience to a wider range of visitors while protecting the ecological integrity of our parks over the long term."

Requests for proposals will be evaluated against the new BC Parks Fixed-Roof Accommodation Policy, which provides a clear set of criteria for assessing proposals, ensuring consistency with park management plans and complementing the park system. The government has stressed that park accommodations proposals will go through a transparent process and be subject to competitive bidding, impact assessment studies, and public and First Nations consultation. Green technologies will be encouraged to reduce the environmental impact of these developments.

The 12 parks were selected for development. The first 6 released included Mount Assiniboine and Elk Lakes where the government is searching for new operators of existing facilities. The Ministry will issue requests for proposal on August 31, 2006 to cover the remaining 6 parks:

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