Banff’s $67 Million Dollar Joke

As usual, it is a rant that gets me back onto my blog train. This time around, it’s the federal government’s announcement last Wednesday, July 15th, that the Bow Valley Parkway in Banff National Park is going to get a $67 million dollar facelift widening its shoulders to create a bike path between Banff and Lake Louise (under the guise that the changes will make it safer for cyclists and motorists, alike).

Fresh on the heels of a series of government sell-outs/development approvals in the core of our mountain national parks — the ridiculous Skywalk at the Icefields in Jasper, the Mt Norquay gondola in Banff, and the Marmot Basin ski hill expansion in Jasper in the heart of endangered mountain caribou range — this decision to widen the Bow Valley Parkway reeks of business interests getting their way once again within our national parks at the expense of ecological integrity (y’know, that minor thing the entire parks system was created to protect).

Will wildlife sightings along the Bow Valley Parkway become a thing of the past?

Who does this “infrastructure improvement” benefit? Certainly not the wildlife along the Bow Valley Parkway. Anyone that has driven the Trans-Canada Highway between Banff and Canmore in recent years can attest to the extraordinary popularity of the new Legacy Trail (a paved bike path that runs parallel to the Trans-Canada Highway between the two resort towns) and it’s easy to count the impact it’s had on local recreation between the towns. Yesterday, I drove that stretch of highway at 2:30 p.m. and counted 113 cyclists, runners, mountain bikers, skateboarders, and roller skiers using the 21-kilometer pathway. So now imagine how many recreational users are going to take advantage of the proposed new bike path along the Bow Valley Parkway, with broad, paved, 2.5-meter shoulders, and a leisurely, winding route through gorgeous montane and subalpine forests and meadows. It will be a zoo. A zoo without any animals in it, that is.

A number of years ago I was invited by Parks Canada to be on a Bow Valley Parkway (BVP) stakeholder committee to determine the future direction of the BVP in terms of wildlife management and visitor engagement. Specifically, one of our key tasks was to help determine whether or not Parks Canada should close certain parts of the Parkway during key times of the year to protect wildlife.

The process was long and drawn out over years worth of meetings, research, and communication between stakeholders. I held a unique position on the committee in that I was a member of the business community (I had business relationships with all three resorts on the BVP), yet I was also a vocal environmental advocate in the community, so I had close ties to many of the Parks representatives and the environmental organizations.

In the final meeting of the committee, I abstained from attending and instead submitted a seven-page letter which I had the chair of the committee read out loud. I knew that I was a potential ‘swing’ vote and I also knew that my decision was likely going to alienate myself from either the business community or the environmental community. Yet my choice was clear, despite the fact that closing the BVP during critical times of the year would impact my photography business directly financially, I was 100% in favour of the closure and chastised those who were putting their own business interests ahead of the interests of the park’s wildlife.

From April 1st to June 25th each year now, the Bow Valley Parkway is closed to all traffic (including bikes and pedestrians) from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. each night to “give animals free rein to use the area and feed in the critical spring months following winter hibernation.” Designed specifically to provide some relief to grizzly and black bears to forage on the BVP’s wide right-of-ways that green up early each spring, the closure has also benefited local wolves, cougars, elk, and deer, among others.

The BVP closure was implemented to allow animals to feed freely along the roadside

The committee that I was a part of never did discuss widening the Bow Valley Parkway or making a designated bike path along it. Safety was not an issue, nor was increasing recreational use. After all, we had just agreed to decrease use. What we did discuss was how to make the BVP more wildlife-friendly so that visitors could see more wildlife along it: light more prescribed burns, create more meadow-like habitat using selective logging and thinning, add speed bumps to reduce speeding. 

We definitely did not discuss how we could turn the BVP into a wildlife-free zone during daylight hours, which is exactly what this proposed bike path and widening of the road will do for all but the most habituated animals. It’s not hard to see that there will be a dramatic increase in bike and foot traffic, and that wider roads with broader shoulders will likely lead to an increase in speeding and reckless driving from locals and tourists. And it’s critical to note that widening the Parkway will take away at least 5 meters of vital right-of-way, this same valuable roadside foraging habitat that the mandatory spring closure was supposed to allow animals easy access to.

So with more traffic, more disturbances (roadside wildlife reacts far more negatively to cyclists, for instance, than to vehicles), and less roadside forage for animals to eat, the end result is going to be a Bow Valley Parkway with a lot fewer wildlife sightings. It’s a lose-lose situation: park visitors that drive the BVP to see wildlife lose out on that chance, and park wildlife loses out on getting to eat the fabulous roadside buffet of grasses, dandelions, willows, and berries that currently exists on the Parkway.

And that doesn’t take into account the enormous, disruptive impact the construction process would have on everyone (wildlife and humans) for several summers in order to widen the road.

Would the widening of the BVP make it safer for motorists and cyclists as the July 15th federal announcement highlights? Absolutely. The road that has never had a cycling OR vehicular fatality on it would continue to be just as safe as it always has been, maybe even more so (a number of cyclists wondered aloud on Twitter this week why an already safe road needs to be made even safer). Meanwhile, the 1A highway west of Morley in our federal riding really does not have shoulders on it (the BVP actually already has shoulders and is quite easy to pull over safely on, particularly given the 60 km/hr speed limit) and is a constant source of fatalities, yet not a dime will be spent on that piece of infrastructure which runs through the Stoney Nakoda reserve. Maybe that’s not as sexy as announcing big funding for our premier national park with the national election around the corner?

And what’s being missed in all of this is that our national parks should not be prioritizing road biking over ecological integrity. People can road bike anywhere in the world, they cannot drive a beautiful, scenic 60 km/hr road and have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see bears and wolves anywhere in the world.

If the federal government really wants to spend that $67 million on something useful, then I suggest they use it to enrich existing wildlife habitat along the Bow Valley Parkway to truly enhance the visitor experience for everyone from wildlife photographers like myself to the family of five from India that is visiting Canada for the very first time in the hopes of seeing a wild bear in the mountains.  Spend that money on clearing the right-of-ways along the Icefields Parkway so that visitors and locals alike can see more wildlife along there and avoid collisions with animals that can step straight onto the road from the dense cover that lines that road for much of its length. Or take those valuable dollars and continue to build wildlife fencing along Highway 93 South in Kootenay National Park, which has long been a killing field for everything from moose and wolves to deer and bears.

And if you really have to build a bike path between Banff and Lake Louise, do it where it belongs: right beside the Trans-Canada Highway just like the existing Legacy Trail.

Got a Comment? Agree or Disagree? Let me know in the Comments section below.

14 Comments on “Banff’s $67 Million Dollar Joke

Kerry Seige
July 22, 2015 at 8:06 pm

I totally agree with you. I love Banff National Park, but they need to care more about the wildlife than they do the tourists. Is there a petition to sign, or is it too late?

July 22, 2015 at 9:16 pm

John – I totally agree. The BVP is one of our favourite drives and as photographers we love the potential of seeing wildlife. This is a bad idea.

July 22, 2015 at 11:06 pm

John you have covered all angles of this extremely well. I lived in the East Kootenays for quite a few years and frequently ambled over your way for drives and photography. BVW is perfect, just the way it is. Yes yes yes please leave it alone. Give wildlife a chance. I can't understand why the Canadian governments don't realize what an unusual and precious asset they have…….the amazing wildlife. You can travel the USA and barely see a creature apart from squirrels. Excessive hunting in years gone by, perhaps. China has eaten most living creatures in their country. Tourists really do want to experience Canada's wildlife…in the wild not in a zoo or similar.
John you are a wonderful champion for Canada's wildlife, thank you so much for all your continued efforts.

Chuck Kling
July 23, 2015 at 9:02 pm

Hi John


We are returning to the mountain parks, in mid September…..for our 12th visit, since 1988 !

As far as the BVP is concerned….I've lucked out photographing black and gray wolves…and a sub-adult grizzly……. wolves were photo'd on 4 of our 11 previous trips…..and I feel so privileged.

My God…..what are the powers that be thinking about ?

Skywalk….. Maligne Lake development…nutty red chairs set up in the parks…… I said to my wife: "Just wait "

….and NOW… bring us this news?? Holy Cow !!

I am so, so sad !!

Elizabeth Anne Hin
July 23, 2015 at 9:03 pm

We deeply, deeply cherish the Bow River Parkway and note your excellent recommendation of placing the planned biking trail directly beside the Trans~Canada Highway from Banff to Lake Louise just as the trail which has been created from Banff to Cranmore. The care of the beloved wildlife and natural regions of Canada and our world is so deeply important. Thank you for all you do for us all.

July 23, 2015 at 9:03 pm

The problem is that biking is universally seen as an environmentally friendly way of enjoying nature. The detrimental effects on wildlife, which are much higher than with any form of vehicular traffic, are usually overlooked both by politicians and the public. As a citizen of Europe, I can tell you that if I want to go biking, I can do so right out of my front-door. What makes Canada unique, is the watchable wildlife. If wildlife will become less watchable, there is little need for tourists to spend their money in the Canadian Rockies.

July 24, 2015 at 4:20 am

I have long been at odds with the Canadian government's philosophy in deciding what a National Park should be. The negative impact on prime grizzly habitat by the proposed expansion of the Lake Louise ski-hill, the negative impact on bighorn sheep habitat by the Jasper Skywalk, and now the impending negative impact on elk, bears and wolves by the proposed widening of the BVP, are sadly, all indicators that the Canadian government believes Banff NP should be nothing more than a revenue generating playground. It’s also sad that the people making these decisions in Ottawa, are very likely the least qualified people to be doing so.

July 24, 2015 at 4:20 am

Great post but how can we help, make comments or write editorials?

Ursula Easterbrook
July 24, 2015 at 8:51 pm

Grrrr! May the decision makers get warts!
Would voting the current Gov't out change this or is it a Civil Service decision?

July 24, 2015 at 8:52 pm

Voting the PCs out would go a long ways towards getting this overturned, Ursula.

July 25, 2015 at 6:27 pm

I've sent you a PM via email as your blog has limitations.

In a nutshell.. It's already a zoo on the 1A Parkway. It's being widened because it is a zoo regardless of the bicycles. The problem is the high volume of automobile traffic on the Parkway. Widening the road will mostly increase automobile traffic and their speeds. Wildlife is infinitely more impacted by all that automobile traffic. Get rid of the automobile traffic and the bicycles will never be a problem (unless they continue to darned road races). The bicycles are a problem to the automobiles..not the wildlife.

–Rick Nash–

July 25, 2015 at 6:28 pm

Change the government to one that cares more about people and wildlife than it does about business, and at least we and the animals and plants we share this country with have a fighting chance. Right now, those in power seem to have turned a deaf ear to those who vote, and are trying to buy our votes (don't fall for it, people) … so they can continue their agenda of selling out our beautiful country, its flora and its fauna.

Elizabeth Anne Hin
July 31, 2015 at 11:36 pm

We deeply, deeply cherish The Bow River Parkway, and the precious Canadian wildlife now truly rare for most of our Earth. We acknowledge that creating a 'Legacy' trail beside the Trans~Canada Highway, as has been created in the trail between Banff and Cranmore, might support all. Your recommendations for highways 1A, 93 and others are all well~advised. The care of the beloved Canadian wildlife is important for our world. So much is lost across all continents~ rhinoceros, giraffes, lions, tigers, and most of the and other great large animals of our lands and seas are expected to be fundamentally extinct with two decades. Let Canada stand for grace. Thank you for all you do.

August 25, 2015 at 9:33 pm

We, my wife,daughter and I, always loved the BVP. The first time we visited Banff and Jasper ( 4 weeks)was 1986 and from then, we came every two years from Belgium to Banff and Jasper, photographing wildlife. The best spot was every time the BVP. 2009 was the first time, we left a little bit disappointed. The BVP had become the playground of Backroads and others, with lesser wildlife sightings . We changed destination. 2011 it was Yellowstone and 2013 it was a combination of Yosemite, Yellowstone and Grand Tetons (5 weeks in total). This year we made again a combination: Waterton/Glacier, Yellowstone and again Banff (but not Jasper) (again 5 weeks in total). Waterton was a succes. In Glacier we arrived at the moment the fire started. So we could only visit the west side of the going to the sun road with the mountain goats and a lot of deer. Two weeks Yellowstone gave us 12 bear sightings, 2 wolf sightings and all the other wildlife Yellowstone has to offer. 10 days Banff was the last station of our trip and was the total catastrophy. We drove very slow the BVP 11 times (Banff – Lake Louise and back) and we saw on 11 trips one time 1 (ONE) Wapiti Bull at Mullshoe . There was lesser and much slower traffic in comparison with 2009 but a lot of more biking. The Bighorns at the beginning of the BVP are gone. We drove also one time in the early morning Mount Norquay (one Mule), one time in the evening the Vermillion Lakes (no wildlife) and 2 times (one time early in the morning and one time in the evening) Lake Miniwanka. In 2009 you were still welcommed on the dam, by a herd af Bighorns. Now we saw nothing. For us, Banff has become a Stone Wood without wildlife. Only 4 times dining at the Buffalo Mountain Restaurant was still as good as in 2009 with every time the sighting of few Wapiti cows on Tunnel Mountain.
At the Icefield Parkway we saw one Grizzly Bear (Peyto Lake) and the Skywalk (total nonsens). After the Skywalk (we didn' use it) we turned back to Banff.
So we suggest to change the name from Banff National Park in Banff (Brewster) Adventure Park.
Sorry John, but I think we will never come back. 2017 will be again Yellowstone and Grand Tetons.

Family Wilfried Wellens-Van Camp, Belgium


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