Manitoba families will see more yurts, electrical campsites, play structures, Wi-Fi in campsites and better beaches as well as more modern washrooms and showers in their provincial parks as part of more than 50 new initiatives in Building the Parks Province: Manitoba’s Parks Strategy, Conservation and Water Stewardship Minister Gord Mackintosh announced today.
“Our provincial parks are an integral part of life for Manitoba families, and they give us all places to explore, recharge and relax,” said Mackintosh. “This strategy is about making this experience available to more families and keeping our park services sustainable into the future.”
The minister said the strategy will also explore new opportunities for active family fun including private sector partnerships for more geo-caching, new adventure sport and biking opportunities, and free park access in February.
“I want to ensure that while we are enjoying our parks that we are also protecting the lakes and forests that make them beautiful,” said Mackintosh. “This strategy focuses on investments to reduce the footprint from our recreation activities in big and small ways. This will include making our public beaches and playgrounds in parks smoke free and $20 million for new park sewer treatment plants that will protect Lake Winnipeg through phosphorous reduction.”
The minister said the strategy will also create up to 10 new or expanded parks for all Manitobans to enjoy and greater ecosystem protection.
“We’re pleased the new strategy states the fundamental principle of Manitoba’s parks is maintaining ecosystem health,” said Ron Thiessen, executive director of the Manitoba chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. “Establishing a host of new parks and other protected areas will help safeguard wildlife and ensure that many special places people love remain natural forever.”
There are also investments of more than $100 million for park infrastructure in the strategy including $20 million for new waste-water treatment plants to protect Lake Winnipeg, $20 million for more drinking water facilities and improved roads, and $20 million to renew Spruce Woods and St. Ambroise Provincial Parks following the devastation the parks endured during the 2011 flood.
Mackintosh said that despite recent flood-related closures, Manitoba parks saw a record 5.5 million visitors in 2012, adding a record 67,500 camping reservations were made through the online and phone Parks Reservation Service, an increase of five per cent over 2011.
Today, parks costs the province about $36 million and park user revenues contribute just over
$10 million or about 28 per cent of costs. The minister said as part of the strategy’s plan to keep park funding sustainable, park entrance and camping fees will be increasing slightly. He also said the costs will still remain among the lowest in the country and considerably lower than Saskatchewan, Ontario and Riding Mountain National Park.
“In other places, we’ve seen parks actually close during uncertain economic times,” said Mackintosh. “We want to help our park services stay viable so families will be able to enjoy our beautiful parks for generations.”
Along with increased visits, the way Manitobans use parks has changed over the decades, the minister said, adding this includes larger cottages being built around lakes that are being used year-round as opposed to just summer months. Mackintosh said the strategy will address the increasing costs of providing service to cottages in provincial park districts, as well as their rent which has been frozen for more than 15 years.
At a cost of more than $4.5 million, cottagers in parks are only paying about $1.7 million or 38 per cent of the cost of providing park cottage services, he said. Over the last 10 years, this cost has increased to the point that cottage owners who live outside a provincial park or who have a cottage in Riding Mountain pay between 300 and 400 per cent more than a cottage owner within a provincial park. The minister explained a cottage owner in Lac du Bonnet may pay more than $4,000 in municipal tax while a neighbour in the North Whiteshell pays $831 for comparable services.
The new park strategy includes a plan to recover a greater amount of services costs associated with park cottages and businesses, making a more fair balance between user fees and the cost to taxpayers, Mackintosh said. The strategy’s proposed rent and service fee increases for cottage owners averages about $2,000 over 10 years, he added.