(Photo credit: Harvey Locke)
Situated in the most southwesterly corner of Alberta, Waterton Lakes National Park has remained somewhat of an open secret shared by outdoor loving Calgarians. Anyone who has made the three hour drive down from Calgary can attest to beauty of being greeted by the park’s mountains as they rise abruptly out of the prairies.
I call it an “open secret” for good reason: every year only 380 000 visitors pass through Waterton’s park gates compared to the 3.2 million people who visit Banff. There are a few good reasons for why Waterton has remained a less visited destination. It’s a little too far off the beaten path to be as busy as Banff and its relatively low elevation and smaller mountains don’t lend it the same full-on alpine experience many tourists are looking for. Also, Waterton Lake itself is a little too cold for swimming and its shoreline is a little too windy for it to serve as a full-on summer beach destination.
While these might serve as deterrents to some, people like me who are looking for a nice place to hike, camp or just generally relax have come to appreciate the park as an escape from city living. The Waterton townsite is incredibly quaint, and lacks some of the garish development projects that have popped up in some of the province’s more popular parks.
As you can imagine, I was incredibly excited to learn that there is a serious possibility that the park could more than double in size with the addition of the Flathead River Valley located in the most southeastern point of British Columbia.
(click map to enlarge)
If you are thinking, “hold on, wouldn’t doubling the size of Waterton Lakes National Park bring more people to the park, thus eliminating exactly what you just said you love about it in the first place?”, worry not. Currently, there are no paved roads that provide access to the Flathead Valley. The proposed park would be established with the goal of keeping things that way by serving as a sanctuary from humans, limiting development to things like the establishment of tent sites and trail maintenance. Simply put, I would love to see the valley added to the national park, despite the fact that I might never step a foot inside of it.
In fact, the Flathead Valley is so isolated from humans that is has become an incredibly unique natural sanctuary. The water found in the valley is some of the cleanest in the world and it’s currently home to the densest population of Grizzlies in inland North America. In 2010 the British Columbia government passed legislation banning proposed mountaintop removal mining in the valley, a process that has wreaked environmental havoc on the Appalachian mountain range. However, the current ban is not permanent, and only the proposed national park expansion would ensure that the region would remain free from mining and logging indefinitely.
Conservationists and members of the public will be meeting this weekend down in Waterton to discuss the proposals as a part of the Waterton Wildlife Weekend. The Missing Piece Rendezvous is taking place at the Waterton Lakes Opera House on Saturday September 28th at 4pm. The event will be Mc’d by Harvey Locke, a recognized global leader in the field of parks and large landscape conservation. Joining him on stage will be conservationist Charlie Russell, known for his work with bears in North America and Russia; American biologist and author Cristina Eisenberg, known for her studies on wolf and prey dynamics; as well as author Sid Marty. Marty, also a recognized poet and musician, will be performing with his band, The Wailbacks.