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Paragliding pilot project deemed a success

Well known Canadian paraglider Will Gadd launched off Whistlers Mountain to mark the first paraglide flight in a Canadian national park on May 9, 2015. The two-year pilot project wrapped up last month. File photo.

Well known Canadian paraglider Will Gadd launched off Whistlers Mountain to mark the first paraglide flight in a Canadian national park on May 9, 2015. The two-year pilot project wrapped up last month. File photo.

A two-year pilot project to test paragliding and hang gliding in Jasper National Park attracted fewer enthusiasts than initially anticipated, but from the flights that did take off it appears things went smoothly.

It’s difficult to know exactly how many people took advantage of the new guidelines introduced by Parks Canada in May 2015, however the Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association of Canada (HPAC) said approximately 30 flights were logged over the course of two years.

“It’s something that will take a couple more years,” said Margit Nance, executive director for HPAC. “Initially the concern was there would be a ton of people but that just didn’t happen because it takes a while to build.”

To collect the data for the pilot project her organization encouraged pilots to share details about their flights using an online program called Leonardo, which Parks Canada was also able to access so it could see exactly where people launched and landed.

While the majority of people used Whistlers Mountain as a launch point, HPAC was anecdotally aware that there were also a number of people who launched from other places in the park, which weren’t officially logged.

For those that used the Jasper SkyTram pilots had to show proof of their membership with HPAC, which means they were officially certified to fly and had third-party liability insurance. Pilots were also asked to include comments and photos about each flight and abide by the guidelines set out by Parks, which included avoiding certain areas such as the townsite, Marmot Basin and other environmentally sensitive areas.

Among the lessons the organization learned, several pilots told them that trying to launch from Whistlers can be problematic because often the wind is either too strong or inconsistent.

“There are multiple places to launch up there and multiple directions, but more often than not the wind is just too strong,” said Nance.

Bruce Busby, vice president of HPAC, said he would have loved to see more flights, but still deemed the pilot project a success.

“I think we were quite successful from the point of view of zero complaints, nobody had any concern whatsoever, both from Parks and from our association,” Busby said, adding his organization met with Parks to discuss the pilot project in early May.

“The trial period is over but we’re continuing with the status quo for now until the final report is summarized.”

When Parks Canada first announced the pilot project in 2015 the Jasper Environmental Association (JEA) opposed the idea out of concern it would have a negative impact on wildlife.

“It’s fine if you have two or three people doing this but I don’t think it should ever be open to commercial paragliding,” said Jill Seaton, chair of the JEA.

During the two-year pilot project no commercial or special events were permitted.

Both Nance and Busby said part of the reason for the low numbers was because there weren’t any paragliding or hang gliding schools in central or northern Alberta until last year. There is now a paragliding school in Drayton Valley and a hang gliding school near Red Deer.

“As the community gets stronger there will be more and more logged flights,” said Busby.

Parks Canada confirmed it is reviewing the data.

“Parks Canada will not make any decisions about the long-term management approach to paragliding and hang gliding until that evaluation is complete. Further details will be communicated following the review,” wrote Steve Young, a communications officer for Parks Canada.

The pilot project was launched in May 2015 nearly nine years after HPAC approached Parks Canada asking it to consider paragliding and hang gliding in Jasper and Banff national parks.

In 2010 Parks Canada completed a national assessment outlining a set of guidelines for new recreational activities it deemed appropriate in Canada’s national parks, including paragliding, hang gliding, mountain biking, via ferrata tours and aerial parks.

In September 2010, the minister of environment approved the national guidelines and shortly after, Banff and Yoho national parks conducted the first local assessment for guided via ferrata tours. Based on the feedback from that assessment, each of the mountain national parks developed its own guidelines for the nationally approved activities.

Jasper’s guidelines were released for review during the annual public forum in 2011 and were open to feedback until January of 2012.

After getting public feedback the local field unit spent the next few years revising the guidelines and changed air access regulations in Jasper National Park before publishing its own set of guidelines for new recreational activities in the park and launching a two-year pilot project for paragliding and hang gliding.

The inaugural paraglide flight took place on May 9, 2015 off the western edge of Whistlers Mountain.

Paul Clarke

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