This letter was sent to the minister of Environment and Parks by my friend Chip Scialfa. Chip says you can copy and paste any of the information from this letter if you wish to send your own. The email address for Jason Nixon is firstname.lastname@example.org
August 21, 2020
Mr. Jason Nixon
Minister of the Environment and Parks
323 Legislature Building
10800 – 97 Avenue NW
Canada T5K 2B6
Dear Mr. Nixon,
I am writing in regard to the provincial government’s decision to end winter trail maintenance in Kananaskis Country, but for that taking place at the Canmore Nordic Centre. I’ve written to you before on this issue, but I believe that it is important enough, to myself and many other Albertans, that my discouragement be expressed again. As well, I would like to present counterarguments to the decision because I don’t believe that you, in your role as MEP, have considered them adequately.
First, let me start with an assumption of the cost of this trail maintenance. I do not have a verified estimate at hand and I have not seen any mention of costs in the government’s statements on the issue. However, Bob Truman, entrepreneurial developer and owner the most popular cross-country ski web site in Canada (and perhaps North America) has given me an estimate of $200, 000 per year. Intelligent discussions of this issue would benefit from an exact statement from your office, but lacking this, I’ll continue my comments with this assumed expense.
Second, to my knowledge, the government has not gathered data on current usage of the trail system. Without such information, it is not possible to make detailed, informed decisions about the costs and benefits maintaining the system. However, because of the importance of this issue, I’ll express my thoughts now, acknowledging the lack of critical information at the start.
Since you were born in Calgary, you must know about the value of cross-country skiing to the people of southern Alberta. Thousands of people make regular use of this healthy winter activity and thousands more are introduced to the sport each year. With the closing of the trail system at Canada Olympic Park and the intermittent, weather-dependent nature of track-setting within the city, the trails in Kananaskis have provided the only nearby setting for the sport. If there were only 10,000 visits per year (not unreasonable given more than 120 skiable days per year in an area with a population exceeding 1.5 million), this would be a cost of only $20 per visit.
To put this in perspective, the population of Rimbey, a town you represent, is about 2,700 people. Would the government close its hospital, certainly much more costly than trail maintenance in Kananaskis. There are at least 3 other hospitals in larger nearby population centres?
The health advantages to maintaining the trails are obvious: Cross-country skiing is one of the safest winter activities, with clear benefits to cardiovascular, musculoskeletal and mental well-being. It is accessible to people of all ages and abilities, including those who are visually challenged, as demonstrated in the programmes at William Watson Lodge.
Relatedly, cross-country skiing (and, I will add, the growing sport of snowshoeing) makes our rather lengthy winters not just tolerable, but a season of excitement and enjoyment for many. In this age of rising obesity, diabetes and otherwise poor health, it seems short-sighted to reduce access to and support of these outlets.
Permit me to change the topic to economics. Admittedly, it is a domain in which I am not trained and, as mentioned previously, the lack of data make sound economic decisions…difficult at best. This being said, I believe that your government has neglected or undervalued the economic benefits of maintaining the trail system. If it were not for track-setting at Ribbon Creek, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park and Mount Shark, there would be significantly fewer people visiting these areas from November until April every year. These people buy fuel and food at the services along Highway 40. They stay at William Watson Lodge, Kananaskis Mountain Lodge, Mount Engadine and various hotels in Canmore. They rent or buy equipment at outlets throughout the region. These are not just a few folks in Calgary: They come from a huge region of Canada and around the world specifically because of the trail system we have had in Kananaskis.
Do I think that the elimination of trail maintenance will impact these economic benefits? Absolutely. Far fewer people are willing to visit an area without track-setting, compared to an area where well-maintained tracks, skating lanes and trails are absent. There are many reasons for this. Travelling through unpacked snow is much more strenuous, the light, narrow skis that are most popular are not really appropriate for ungroomed trails and the risk of injury from natural hazards (e.g., deadfall) is much greater. The latter is particularly true for children and older adults.
In closing, along with many others, I am asking that you reconsider this decision. Failing to do that, I would ask (and good government demands) that you provide the people of Alberta with a detailed cost/benefit analysis surrounding the decision. But, since such an exercise, if done properly, would certainly cost more than maintaining the trail system in its current form, perhaps it’s more sensible to avoid the costs and electoral fallout and keep this provincial treasure in place.
C.T. (Chip) Scialfa, Ph.D.
Emeritus Professor of Psychology