As the debate over a proposed national park reserve in the South Okanagan and Similkameen continues, opponents finally organized the first public meeting on the issue on Tuesday night.
“There’s a lot of mystery we’re finding out that’s leading up to a negative,” South Okanagan Similkameen (SOS) Preservation Society spokesperson Lionel Trudel said.
The SOS was formed by local residents to review what effect a national park would have on the local culture, economy and environment, according to Trudel.
While Parks Canada officials were invited to the event, they declined attendance, he said.
More than 200 people came out to hear speakers from several stakeholder groups and local politicians.
“We’re trying to profile what we’ve discovered as an individual organization, what we’ve researched,” Trudel said. “It’s essentially a culmination of a year and a half of research from the subject of the national park reserve and Parks Canada.”
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The group has many unanswered questions following their research.
“There’s a lot of questions about budget and how much the park is going to cost taxpayers, how much it’s going to mean as far the people that are visiting the park and what the impact is,” he said.
Trudel hopes those in attendance at the Tuesday night meeting would go away with a better understanding of what the park means to the region.
“For a lot of people that don’t really have the time to really study the issue, they are desperate because there was never any public meetings being held.”
South Okanagan – West Kootenay MP Richard Cannings was one of the few park proponents at the event and attended mainly to listen, he said.
“If I speak for myself, I think a national park would be a wonderful thing here,” Cannings said. “It’s not only for the environment, it’s for the plants and animals of this area. This is a national treasure. We’re all very privileged to live in the South Okanagan and we have a responsibility for that.”
Parks Canada has closed it’s online public-input process and will be hosting public information meetings in late spring in several South Okanagan communities.
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During the planning process, Parks Canada said it met with almost 40 stakeholder groups to discuss how best to move forward with a national park reserve in the South Okanagan-Similkameen.
The park has been in discussions for more than 15 years, but was stalled when the former Liberal government in B.C. initially said there wasn’t enough public support for the project.