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Paragliders to share Jasper's skies

Soon paragliders and hang gliders will experience Jasper National Park’s spectacular mountain vistas from a bird’s eye view, following Parks Canada’s recent approval of guidelines for new recreational activities.

ParaglidingSoon paragliders and hang gliders will experience Jasper National Park’s spectacular mountain vistas from a bird’s eye view, following Parks Canada’s recent approval of guidelines for new recreational activities.

The guidelines, which also consider mountain biking, traction kiting and aerial parks, allow for paragliding and hang gliding in JNP on a two-year trial basis.

“It’s a pilot project because really there’s not a lot known about flying in the park,” said Pam Clark, visitor experience manager for JNP.

Parks has provided guidance for where pilots can take off, fly and land and has asked that those who fly in the park provide details on their flights, so that information can be used to evaluate the pilot project when the two years is up.

“At the end of this pilot phase, we’ll make a determination as to whether or not the guidelines are good or if we need to review them and provide more guidance for pilots,” said Clark.

Jasper’s new guidelines stem from Parks’ 2010 national assessment, which looked at new recreational activities for national 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 a new recreational activity—guided via ferrata tours. Based on the feedback from that assessment, each of the mountain national parks (Jasper, Banff, Kootenay, Glacier, Mt. Revelstoke, Waterton Lakes and Yoho) developed their 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.

Since that time, Parks has been working to revise the guidelines, preparing them for release. They are now available in their entirety on JNP’s website.

Paragliding and hang gliding are adventure sports that allow people to fly long distances at impressive heights.

The greatest difference between the two is the glider’s shape. Hang gliders are V-shaped structures covered by stretched sailcloth, while paragliders are harnesses suspended below a large fabric wing.

The guidelines for paragliding and hang gliding indicate that take offs, landings or low level flying will not be permitted in environmentally sensitive sites, the Jasper townsite, at Marmot Basin, along roadways and associated right-of-ways, within 30 metres of any watercourses—lakes, rivers, creeks—and their banks, or within 1,000 metres of active raptor nests or mineral licks.

There is, however, no list of specific locations where paragliders and hang gliders are prohibited from taking off, flying or landing.

“A lot of these places are really where other recreationalists aren’t permitted to go either,” said Clark.

According to the guidelines, Parks is working with the Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association of Canada (HPAC) to develop its best practices for the sport, including measures to reduce user conflicts and wildlife disturbance.

Although exciting for paragliders, the new recreational activities aren’t welcomed by the Jasper Environmental Association (JEA).

The JEA’s Jill Seaton said the association is concerned about the lack of research that was done on the impacts of paragliding and hang gliding on the park’s wildlife.

“Parks, because it has no money these days, has not done any monitoring, so therefore this is lacking the necessary data on where the wildlife populations are that are likely to be affected by these sports—such as nesting bald and golden eagles, mountain goats and bighorn sheep.”

Without that research, Seaton said there’s no way to ensure that the park’s wildlife is protected.

“It seems to me the more Parks Canada allows these kinds of activities in a national park, the less credibility it has when it tries to assure the Canadian public that ecological integrity is its first priority—I don’t see how it can be when you’re allowing this kind of thing overhead.”

Approving paragliding and hang gliding didn’t require an environmental assessment because both activities were determined to be appropriate within Parks’ national guidelines.

Parks staff in Jasper, however, did do some research before moving forward with the activities.

“Basically our approach was to look at existing scientific research that’s already been carried out into the environmental affects of hang gliding and paragliding, including affects on wildlife,” said Amber Stewart, JNP’s integrated land use planner.

Stewart noted that, to date, there hasn’t been a lot of research done in North America, but Parks did consider a comprehensive study completed in British Columbia.

“Generally the information that we reviewed suggested that hang gliding and paragliding would have similar environmental affects to other recreational activities that we already have in the park, like hiking and ski touring.”

Those affects include wildlife disturbance and displacement and the possibility of introducing non-native plants to the park by unintentionally carrying seeds and burrs in on shoes and equipment.

Although the national guidelines deemed hang gliding and paragliding appropriate activities for national parks four years ago, it has taken this long to implement them because both required a change to air access regulations, which formerly prohibited such pursuits.

“It took three or four years to amend the regulations,” said Clark, noting that regulation changes are never quick.

“Prior to then you wouldn’t have been able to—even with the guidelines—hang glide or paraglide in a park because it was excluded,” she said.

“This is exciting because we want to be able to give people a reason to think about coming back if they haven’t been here for a few years.”

As well as paragliding and hang gliding, Clark eluded to more announcements relating to new recreational activities in the park, suggesting that there are eight or 10 more that will be unveiled this month.

“We want to be able to provide a suite of activities that cater to a variety of different interests and different recreational levels, and I think when we do launch that it will be clear that there is a wide range of new activities that visitors can come and enjoy in the park.

“It will suit a real variety of interests.”

Download JNP’s guidelines for new recreational activities.

Nicole Veerman
[email protected]

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