Park cuts Visitor Centre hours, interpretive programs

Matt
Matt Gardner
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Cross-country ski trails aren’t the only attraction at Prince Albert National Park affected by the government’s decision to shift resources to the summer period.

The Hawood Inn in Waskesiu is one of the businesses affected by the federal government’s decision to eliminate interpretive programming and weekend hours at the Visitor Centre in Prince Albert National Park during the winter season.

The park’s Visitor Centre will henceforth be open on weekdays from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. but will be closed on weekends, when the majority of visitors come to the park. Interpretive programming that provides information and activities for guests is also on the chopping block.

The news came as a surprise to local businesses who were informed of the change with little notice.

“We were told (last Friday) afternoon that as of 4 o’clock Friday, our visitor services desk would be closed on weekends, which is … a big event,” Hawood Inn general manager Nancy Wood said. “It’s big for the people that do back country camping and hiking … I think that that’s definitely a big negative, is that there isn’t a visitor service open at the peak of when tourists are here.”

The Visitor Centre provides a variety of services to guests, who can buy gate passes, register for hiking or camping, watch DVDs and find information, maps and pamphlets at the building. Town site offices are also located there to help seasonal residents and businesses with licensing.

Following the changes, the Visitor Centre will only offer one service on weekends.

“There are bathrooms that are open,” P.A. National Park communications officer Shannon Bond said. “People can still access those 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, which is also kind of a safety measure … because it’s heated.”

Interpretive programming is the other victim of the resource shift. Many of these events were educational, such as a class explaining the Aurora Borealis.

In an effort to cope with the changes, Wood is training her staff to handle many of the tasks that were formerly handled by park officials.

“We’re going to have to take that visitor load on on the weekends,” Wood said. “We’re going to have to, because I want to keep our doors open, and it’s really important that people know that we are open year-round, and we’re not three-season, we are four-season. I’ve already gone to the park, I’ve got their information here, I’ve got their posters here, I’ve got maps here, and now I’m educating myself and my staff so that when people come to the park on the weekends, there’s still someone who should be able to answer their questions.

Everything that they keep taking away, I’m just trying to replace somehow on a different scale myself, because I plan to stay open. Nancy Wood

“Parks (Canada) didn’t ask me to do this or anything. We’re doing this on our own initiative so that our guests don’t lose out of what they’re paying for.”

P.A. National Park superintendent Alan Fehr defended the changes by noting that winter attendance is a tiny fraction of the number of park visitors during the spring, summer and fall. He downplayed the significance and success of winter interpretive programming.

“What we’re trying to do is improve visitation to the national parks,” Fehr said. “The approach that we’ve been taking is that the vast majority of our visitation and the interest in coming to the parks is through the spring-summer-fall period … 95 per cent of our visitors are coming in the spring, summer, fall. We’ve got a limited set of resources in terms of money and manpower, and so we need to put them so that we can make sure that … when people come, they have a good experience.

“In the wintertime, the vast majority of the people that come already know what they’re going to do … So I don’t think … it’s going to impact our visitation in the winter.”

Wood said that the impact on her business would depend on whether media coverage causes people to stay away.

“I am trying to stay positive,” she said. “Everything that they keep taking away, I’m just trying to replace somehow on a different scale myself, because I plan to stay open. So probably … there’s going to be some effect financially … but I don’t want to whine about it. I just want to look as though I’m going to be proactive and try my best to keep this small town on the map.”

Organizations: Visitor Centre, Hawood Inn

Geographic location: P.A. National Park, Canada

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  • Ron Horn
    November 12, 2012 - 00:15

    If this decison is really about the best use of resources why not have the visitor centre open on the weekend and closed Monday Tuesday. It is hard to believe that with the existing winter staff the park can not find the time to at least groom the trails closest to the townsite. I would be interested to know how many hundreds of people visit the park from Dec. 15 through to Mar15 to to enjoy all the park has to offer.One only needs to look at the park literature to see how proud they USED to be about their programs.