Parks Canada Presents “Planning for the Future” at February BPEG Meeting

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Submitted by John Festarini
and Joanne Rodgers

At BPEG‘s February Meeting, Parks Canada’s Acting Superintendent for Bruce Peninsula National Park and Fathom Five National Marine Park, John Festarini, provided an overview of current Agency priorities and strategic planning for the parks. 

New Management Plans for Bruce Peninsula National Park and Fathom Five National Marine Park are currently being developed and by 2021 will detail a vision, key strategies and performance objectives for the Parks over the next 10 years. The Parks Advisory Committee (PAC), which represents a broad range of local and national interests, has been providing recommendations and feedback at each stage of the planning process. In late 2019, a draft Management Plan will be shared and partner, stakeholder and public perspectives will be gathered through facilitated meetings to help inform the final plan. Formal public consultations on the Management Plans will commence in 2020, including Information Bulletins, Open Houses, and a website designed for engaging public feedback.

John emphasized the importance of having a shared vision among strategic partners such as the Saugeen Ojibway Nation, the Municipality of Northern Bruce Peninsula and the Province of Ontario, as well as other strategic partners and stakeholders to ensure that we are all working towards common objectives and moving in the same direction.

Alongside the Management Planning process, the Park is developing a Visitor Experience Strategy for Fathom Five that will benefit from the input and support of local residents, commercial operators, and visitors. There are opportunities to enhance and diversify sustainable visitor experiences while continuing to protect the ecological integrity of the area. 

Visitation to the Bruce Peninsula National Park and Fathom Five National Marine Park have increased significantly recently. At Flowerpot Island alone, visitation has increased by more than 500% over the past ten years. In response to this, Parks Canada will be applying the Visitor Use Management Framework, developed by the U.S. National Parks Service, to help to define acceptable uses, manage development and establish sustainable levels of visitation in specific areas of the parks.

As they continue along the Management Planning process, John identified five key opportunities where Parks Canada will be focusing:

• Protecting a wild and rugged ecosystem in the heart of the Great Lakes;

• Realizing Fathom Five’s potential as a leader in marine conservation;

• Managing exceptional levels of visitation through innovation, best practices and partnerships;

• Building on our relationships with the Saugeen Ojibway Nation, the Municipality of Northern Bruce Peninsula, the Province of Ontario and other strategic partners; and

• Strengthening our legislative and regulatory framework in order to better protect and present our places.

While a lot has changed over the years, Parks Canada has been working hard to address the challenges of today while continuing to meet the Agency’s mandate and its obligations under the Federal-Provincial Agreement. The outstanding 1994 and revised 2008 First Nations litigations mean the Parks are managed in “the spirit” of the Canada National Parks Act, without the full suite of regulatory tools available to other parks across the country. Operating in the shadow of so many urban cities to the south, the visitors will keep coming, largely propelled by independent social media advertising.

Yet despite the challenges, John also celebrated some recent success stories. For example, the on-line Parking Reservation system for the Grotto has successfully reduced congestion and safety issues while providing an improved visitor experience. In 2018, 80% of Grotto visitors reserved in advance on-line, whereas redirection of “spontaneous” visitors to Cyprus Lake was reduced 36% since 2016.

Meanwhile, John dispelled rumors that timed parking will be implemented at Halfway Log Dump this summer. Although a Bruce Trail enthusiast remarked that the four hour timed parking is problematic to hikers, John indicated that Parks Canada has been working closely with the Bruce Trail Conservancy to address these types of issues and is looking at ways to accommodate all users of the Parks.

And with the successful acquisition of the Driftwood Cove property last December, 90% of study area, established in the Federal-Provincial Agreement, for Bruce Peninsula National Park is now complete. The future of the property will be determined through the Management Planning process, where the Bruce Trail Conservancy and other partners will help inform the development of an Area Management plan.

John described the success of the Federal Infrastructure Investment program and how more than $25 million dollars has been invested in Bruce Peninsula and Fathom Five over the past five years. Although staffing in recent years has been focused on supporting infrastructure and visitation, Parks Canada is actively recruiting and staffing environmental and conservation specialists through the recently announced Federal Nature Legacy program. This is in support of the Government of Canada’s Pathway to Target 1 initiative and in direct response to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change’s direction to put ecological integrity first in everything Parks Canada does. Although Parks Canada has been making some great headway, the Agency recognizes that it can’t do this alone and is open to new partnerships, enhancing visitor experience and conservation efforts to deliver on its mandate.

The final message that John delivered is Parks Canada’s intention to implement a ‘Per Person’ admission fee for Bruce Peninsula National Park in 2020. This legislated and policy-based fee structure will bring Bruce Peninsula in line with other National Parks in Canada. Details of the new fee structure will be communicated later in the spring and during the 2019 operating season. Youth, 17 and under, will continue to benefit from free admission at all national parks and national historic sites across the country.

For an audio recording of John’s presentation, please check out the BPEG Channel on YouTube.

Next Meeting: Winds of Change, Stories of Neyaashiinigmiing Fishers from Bagida’Waad Alliance; 7:30pm March 6, 2019, Christ Church Parish Hall, Lion’s Head.