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Park would boost economy, advocate tells Rotary
A national park in the South Okanagan-Similkameen would provide a major economic boost to the region, park advocate Doreen Olson told a recent meeting of the Rotary Club of Osoyoos.
While Rotary as a club doesn’t take a position on political issues, it was clear from comments around the table that those at the lunch meeting were generally sympathetic to the message.
Olson, director of the South Okanagan Similkameen National Park Network, has been on a tour of local governments and organizations trying to drum up support for reopening talks between the federal and provincial governments to establish a national park in the region.
Recently Midway, Greenwood, Grand Forks and the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary approved motions calling for talks to be reopened, Olson said.
They join a long list of other municipalities, regional governments, chambers of commerce and tourist organizations asking that talks be resumed.
The B.C. Liberal government abruptly ended talks on the park in early 2012, and subsequently Parks Canada shelved the proposal saying it couldn’t continue without support of the province.
“No decisions have been made because we need the province to re-engage,” Olson told the Rotarians.
Some at the meeting speculated about why MLA Linda Larson has been firmly opposed to the park, but Olson herself chose her words carefully.
“I think that Linda Larson is misinformed,” Olson said following the meeting. “She’s maybe getting advice that’s not correct.”
Olson characterized park opponents as “a few people, mostly hunters, ATVers and a few ranchers … concerned about change.”
These people don’t have any studies or public information to back them up, she said. They just say “no.”
“Our MLA Linda Larson is being influenced by them,” Olson said on her PowerPoint presentation.
Asked why she thinks the government doesn’t want to talk, Olson admitted she is puzzled, but thinks it is listening to a big lobby group.
One group opposing the park, she said, is the B.C. Wildlife Federation, which is a hunting and angling organization with a total membership of about 40,000.
The economic benefits of a park to the area, however, are substantial, Olson said.
The park’s operating budget would be between $2 million and $10 million a year. Funds to purchase privately owned land would range between $20 million and $70 million.
The parks’ staff would provide at least 20 full-time-equivalent positions, she said. This compares with one part-time position for the current provincial park.
A 2010 study by the Outspan Group found that on average, one B.C.-based national park produces 70 full-time equivalent Parks Canada jobs and 752 full-time equivalent jobs in spinoffs, Olson noted.
A park here would also create many more spinoff jobs, she said, and federal funding could be provided for complementary tourist attractions outside the park.
“The main benefits are economic development in the communities,” Olson said. “More tourism dollars coming here. We can get infrastructure happening here that probably wouldn’t happen otherwise.”
The other benefit is better protection of the environmentally sensitive grasslands.
“We’ll have better monitoring,” she said. “We won’t have people tearing up the grasslands. There’s a lot of damage done. Just one car going off road or one off-road vehicle going there, the damage is there for a long time. It’s so sensitive.”
Olson said there’s a common reaction when she meets with local governments, groups and organizations to talk about the proposed park.
“They can’t believe that these opportunities are available and we’re not getting them,” she said. “They are stunned.”