Provincial park pass problems persisting
Manitoba’s new provincial park pass system is an expensive and ill-considered barrier to the wonderful wilderness enshrined in our parks. What people need is more access to nature, with fewer barriers, so all Manitobans can experience the health benefits and mental wellbeing of being in nature. That means free provincial park access — all the time — not the increased fees and sales with credit cards or online only that Premier Brian Pallister’s government has forced onto us.
My latest park pass problem came this morning when I tried to transfer my park pass from the old truck I sold to a newly purchased van. Seeing no information about this online, I called the toll-free number. I ended up connected to a call centre in Ontario — run by an American company — to ask about my transfer. The person on the other end of the phone apologized that they couldn’t transfer the pass as that wasn’t allowed by Manitoba government rules.
The truck that I just sold has been the main Wilderness Committee research vehicle for decades. Hundreds of folks will have used it as we hauled canoe gear, bicycles and hiking lunches out for our Wilderness Witness Tours. There were nine old provincial park passes hanging from the rearview mirror of the truck, stacked up as a reminder of our boots-on-the-ground work to defend parks. With our expanding tour program, I had opted for more passenger space with a newer vehicle and purchased a van. It took several weeks to sell my old truck so I ended up with new plates on the van — plates that aren’t listed on my park pass.
Park fees are a barrier
This story is not an insurmountable problem, but one more indication of the failings of the new provincial park access that is reserved for the privileged. Park access fees, many people think, are used to care for our parks. But the park fees in 2011 brought in as little as $2 million, while the conservation budget is closer to $140 million. Park fees won’t ever pay for the care of our parks, much less the expansion of our park system, and they shouldn’t have to. Parks are not a business model.
Nature as a prescription
Park access is an incredible benefit to our health. Scientific studies continue to pour in regarding the benefits and we wrote about how nature is the best prescription in our 2016 Keep It Wild report. But year over year the amount of money spent on nature and wilderness is stagnated and decreasing. Under the current government, over four years, we have seen the protection of nature completely fall off the agenda.
I will be buying another annual park pass to access Paint Lake Provincial Park, Grass River Provincial Park and Duck Mountain Provincial Park in the coming weeks. But what we really need is recognition from this Manitoba government that nature and wilderness are an essential piece of our health and well-being, and should be freely available to all.
Raise your voice to free our parks