Saturday, January 13, 2018

Design for new Waterton visitor centre announced

Parks Canada concept drawings of  planned new Waerton Lakes National Park visitor centre

Chris Davis - On January 12, 2018 Parks Canada unveiled the design concept for a new visitor centre in Waterton Lakes National Park. According to Parks Canada, three design option were considered before design option three (pictured above), called The Town Plaza, was selected "following public consultations, a community open house, and the careful review and consideration of three design options."  The new centre will be located in the Waterton Townsite, a location which has been the subject of considerable controversy for Waterton residents.

The design "implements a craftsman style coupled with wood and stone to reflect the Waterton Lakes and Parks Canada style," and features a central plaza and will include the visitor centre, an outdoor theatre, a 'nature-based' playground, and Waterton Townsite administration space. An existing playground and splash park will be relocated to another area of the Waterton townsite, with the relocation costs to be funded by Parks Canada, a proposal reportedly supported by the Waterton Lakes Leaseholders Association and the Waterton Park Chamber of Commerce.

According to Parks Canada, the design "consists of three structures, with a main building, an administration building, and a public washroom building, all joined together by one roof. Dramatic overhanging roof canopies connect the structures and will act as a public porch area for visitors. The visitor centre grounds will include new play equipment that incorporates more natural play structures, such as logs and large rocks. This new style of playground is gaining popularity and will create an additional interpretive opportunity for visitors."

"Large, sturdy stone blocks contrasted with large windows will celebrate the majestic views the site offers."

Parks Canada will be investing approximately $100 million "to ensure the quality and reliability of visitor facilities" at Waterton Lakes National Park, part of "an unprecedented $3 billion to support infrastructure work in visitor, heritage, waterway, and highway assets across the country."

In terms of the choice of location, Parks Canada said "the proximity of the new visitor centre to services in the Waterton business district and the townsite campground will provide Parks Canada with opportunities to connect directly and more frequently with the greatest number of visitors, enabling enhanced visitor experiences through welcome, orientation and a full range of interpretive programing."

In partnership with the Blackfoot nation, interpretive material at the plaza will "reflect Blackfoot history, traditions, culture and contributions to Waterton Lakes National Park."

According to Parks Canada a detailed design and environmental assessment will be finalized in winter 2018. "In fall 2018, Parks Canada will work with Public Services and Procurement Canada on tendering the construction contract. Construction of the new Visitor Centre is expected to begin in 2019 with an expected opening in 2021."

Planning for a new visitor centre was already underway before the Kenow fire destroyed the existing visitor centre, which Parks Canada said was no longer large enough to encompass the purpose of serving the more than 500,000 people who visit the Park every year. In the interim, visitors can obtain information at the Waterton Lakes Operations Building's Front Desk from Monday to Friday from 8:00 am to noon and from 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm, and at the Park Gate on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

In an email to Parks Canada Executive Assistant for Waterton Lakes National Park Mary Watson, former Townsite Planner for the Waterton Lakes Townsite Al Lubkowski writes "Could you kindly convey to the Waterton Superintendent, Ifan Thomas, my dismay in the decision reached by him and Parks Canada to locate the new Visitor Centre in the heart of Waterton Townsite. I am skeptical that there was a 'careful review and consideration' of input gathered through "public consultation" to reach this decision as stated."

Continues Lubkowski: "One example: I sent the Superintendent (and his superiors) the idea for locating this important building in a satellite location outside the Townsite - a concept which could achieve many benefits, including reducing traffic and parking and keeping free a valuable open space in the centre of town- as favoured by many townspeople I spoke to. In any event, I am disappointed that my proposal did not rate even an acknowledgment much less a response to why ideas presented would not work. Were any other alternatives discussed? I am sure many others would like to know how decisions are made."

"If my experience is what Parks Canada means by "public consultation", I am sad. In the first plan I wrote for the the Waterton Townsite back in the 1970's, all such ideas presented were at least acknowledged, if not discussed. And the result by the way, was a plan which the community and its politicians widely supported."

Lubkowski also expressed his concerns about the location of the project at length last year, as published here and elsewhere, as were the concerns of Waterton resident Jerry Kovaks, who remains opposed to the location and is also concerned about the decided-upon structure itself.

In an email to this publication Kovaks says "Regardless of the location, who in their right mind would build a flat roofed building in the mountains? There are many structural problems and liability issues with this."

In a separate message regarding the January 12 Parks Canada announcement Kovaks said, in part "In a bizarre way, I couldn't help but laugh. I really couldn't. Parks Canada, remember, National Parks... preserving Canada's natural heritage... nature, environment, won't listen to the public... rip out the trees and grass and surround the building with concrete and "planted" rocks in concrete. Brilliant!"

Parks Canada also released a "What We Heard report" compiling the public feedback they received about the project, which includes favourable and unfavourable opinions about various aspects of the location and design options.

The Parks Canada public consultation process began in April of 2017. According to Parks Canada, "A six-week consultation period included an on-line engagement website as well as an open house in the community on April 29th. Interested members of the public were provided with multiple resources, including planning reports, design principles, and three possible design options, in order to have all the information they needed to meaningfully contribute to the discussion. A total of approximately 4,000 visits to the consultation website and 86 attendees at the open house generated 115 comments on the design options."

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