Recent news that many national parks would no longer maintain their cross-country ski trails through regular grooming came as a heavy blow to local skiers.
But on Friday, a small ray of light poked through the clouds.
The Waskesiu Chamber of Commerce has announced that it will join with local volunteers to help maintain some of the most popular cross-country ski trails in Prince Albert National Park.
“From what I understand, they’re already up and at it and out there grooming trails as we speak,” Prince Albert MP Randy Hoback said. “So that’s good news. This Christmas season they’ll be able to go to Waskesiu and do some cross-country skiing.”
While Hoback publically expressed his thanks to federal Environment Minister Peter Kent for listening to the concerns of residents and working with his staff to help, he credited residents of Prince Albert for taking the initiative by letting him know how they felt.
“We had a lot of people contacting us concerned with this and concerned with the fact that there’d be no cross-country skiing going on in the park this winter because there’d be no trails that were maintained,” Hoback said.
“We went to the minister and he said that the parks had the equipment. They just needed to find a volunteer base or an organization that would take on the role of doing the work. They just didn’t have the budget to pay somebody to do the work. From what I understand, they negotiated a deal with the Chamber of Commerce in Waskesiu for them to use the park’s equipment to maintain the trails.
“There are a lot of things I think could have been done better here,” Hoback added. “But the minister at least went to bat for us and made sure that we could utilize the equipment that was there and that a group of volunteers plus the Chamber can now at least go on and maintain these trails and allow people to use them.”
Part of skiers’ frustration stemmed from the way in which the announcement had been made.
Hoback suggested that if local skiers had been told about the change in August, they would have had more time to alter their plans. As it was, they found out after the first snowfall of the year and were left scrambling to salvage the season.
A member of the Prince Albert Ski Club -- who stressed that she was only expressing her personal opinion, not that of the club -- said the announcement was a positive step, though her understanding was that only trails around the town site would be groomed.
My concern right now is, let’s salvage this season as best we can and then we can deal with the other issues throughout the summer and see what other options or alternatives we have. MP Randy Hoback
“I think it’s wonderful that the (Chamber) and businesses around Waskesiu are trying to put something in place,” skier Nancy Pardoe said. “So I certainly support and applaud their efforts. There’s absolutely no doubt about that. It’s great that they’re doing that because otherwise there’d be nothing.
“But I hope people don’t think it’s what they had last year, because it isn’t,” she added.
Pardoe maintained her criticism of Parks Canada for its decision to stop grooming most trails, which park officials defended by saying they were only allocating more funds to the far busier spring-summer-fall period.
“From my personal point of view, I’m still disappointed in Parks Canada because to me, we’ve lost these services and they haven’t even saved any money, it’s my understanding,” she said. “So it’s like, why take those winter services away? I still have to pay the same to go into the park.”
While pleased at the overall result, Hoback also expressed some reservations.
“I think there’s some concern about the long-term viability of this type of plan,” he said. “But my concern right now is, let’s salvage this season as best we can and then we can deal with the other issues throughout the summer and see what other options or alternatives we have.”
He noted the reality of a deficit budget, with every government agency has come under pressure to reduce costs.
“I know the parks managers, they’re looking at what they can do to bring their costs in line to a lower budget,” Hoback said. “For one reason or another they decided this was the best way to go and I can’t second-guess their judgement on this … but in the same breath … people weren’t happy with this decision. There’s no question about that, and it’s not just people in Prince Albert.
“We’re getting people out of Saskatoon and Regina, even people out of Alberta that come to the park to ski saying, ‘What’s going on?’”