The federal government has given Parks Canada $24 million to put towards improvements at Elk Island National Park. The Alberta park, about 30 kilometres east of Edmonton, is famous for its roaming plains and wood bison.
Most of the money will be used to upgrade existing infrastructure in the park, much of which was developed in the ’70s.
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About $6.5 million will be used to upgrade the main visitor day use area, campground and trails around Astotin Lake. Half a million dollars will also be spent on upgrading the water facilities in that area of the park.
Just over $11 million will be spent on road work in the park, while the 51-year-old wastewater facilities will get a $3.1-million upgrade to bring them up to modern standards.
About $1.3 million will go towards upgrades at the visitor reception and parking area, so it can accommodate larger recreational vehicles like tour buses and RVs.
To ensure bison don’t escape the park, $1.5 million will be spent on repairing and replacing the park boundary fence.
“These investments will ensure safe, high-quality visitor experiences, help improve the quality of life of our middle class and grow the local economies in the capital region of Alberta,” Randy Boissonnault, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Member of Parliament for Edmonton Centre, said in a statement.
A timeline when the work will start and end has not been released.
The park was initially created as a wildlife sanctuary for elk in 1906, and later became one of five national parks in Alberta, alongside Banff, Jasper, Waterton Lakes and Wood Buffalo.
Elk Island is home to a herd of around 300 threatened wood and plains bison.
It’s estimated that there were once about 60 million bison in North America, but the animals were almost completely wiped out about a century ago when they were hunted for nothing more than their tongues or their horns.
At the turn of the last century, the last large herd of wild bison on the Montana plains was bought by the Canadian government and moved to what would become the Elk Island Park.
In recent years, Elk Island bison have been shipped around North America in an effort to restore the animals to the landscape.
In April 2016, 88 bison were sent to the Blackfeet Nation reserve in Montana, for two reasons: to return the powerful and majestic creatures to their ancient homeland and to help wild herds grow along the Rocky Mountains.
The bison were roughly one year old and are the direct descendents of the herd originally from the reserve that was sent to Canada more than 100 years ago.
In 2003, 50 bison were sent to Old Man on His Back Prairie and Heritage Conservation Area, a 5,300-hectare parcel of grassland south of Swift Current, Sask. That pack is now thriving, with 70 females and four bulls in the herd.
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