The federal government has pledged billions of dollars to create a series of national urban parks from coast to coast, and Edmonton is interested in learning more.
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The idea is to conserve ecological gems, help protect wildlife, conserve biodiversity, fight climate change and work with Indigenous partners to preserve culture and history.
“This will be a gift. Not only to Edmontonians today but for generations,” said Ward Dene Coun. Aaron Paquette.
“It brings federal investment so we can actually enhance our trails, create more amenities, maybe even public bathrooms. Wouldn’t that be nice?”
Unlike existing national parks in Elk Island, Banff and Jasper, the idea of paying to enter won’t fly in Edmonton.
“User fees are a no-go. There’s no gate to the river valley as we know it, so there’s no way to implement that, and there’s no way we’d want to. The river valley belongs to Edmontonians,” Paquette said.
Some have expressed concerns about turning over Edmonton’s greatest asset to Ottawa, but advocates, like the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, say that’s unfounded.
Northern Alberta board chair Steve Donelon said CPAWS is working with Parks Canada in various places where these parks are proposed, and there’s a level of local autonomy involved.
“Ensuring that local communities are taking the lead with regards to development and management of these sites,” Donelon said.
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Canada’s first park of this type, called Rouge, is in Toronto.
It has some restrictions Edmonton’s Mountain Bike Alliance is worried about.
“We were concerned with the fact that that website says that cycling is not permitted on what they call hiking trails there,” president Joe Yurkovich explained.
But city administration said Edmonton’s national park could be unique to the city and include all the uses Edmontonians desire.
“From the discussion today, it sounded like the federal government is not looking at Rouge National Park as being the only model, so we were encouraged by that discussion,” Yurkovich said.
“We really do think it does need to fit the circumstances for Edmonton and all the users of the river valley.”
Donelon agreed, adding public engagement will need to be extensive.
“There are a myriad of other groups and users in the river valley, and we really need to hear their voices,” Donelon said.
If mountain bikers are welcome on the trails, Yurkovich said he can see huge potential benefits for the city and park users.
“Hopefully, we can take advantage of some funding here to have proper signage and really promote our great river valley to the rest of Canada and the world.”
The City of Edmonton signed a statement of collaboration with Parks Canada to conduct an early assessment and feasibility study at no cost to the city. There’s also no commitment to move ahead in establishing a park at this point.
The initial report is expected to take six to 12 months to complete, at which point the findings will be brought back to city hall.