Budget cuts to Parks Canada will mean a shorter operating season for the smaller campgrounds in Radium Hot Springs and the Visitor Information Centre may see a decrease in hours.
Parks Canada superintendent for Kootenay and Yoho national parks David McDonough made an appearance at the Village of Radium Hot Springs (VRHS) council meeting on Wednesday (May 9) to offer an update on how the recent budget decisions will affect the Kootenay area.
“The whole thing is to really focus our resources on when the peak visitor period is on,” McDonough said.
The Marble Canyon and McLeod Meadows campgrounds will see a change of two weeks on either end of their regular season, opening the week before the May long weekend and closing after Labour Day.
Parks is looking at contracting out the cleaning services, said McDonough, and the visitor centre’s hours may decrease with a later opening time.
The recent announcement that Radium’s hot pools operations were designated for privatization was foremost on Councillor Ron Verboom’s mind, who took the meeting with McDonough as an opportunity to ask what the changeover to a private operator would look like, but McDonough couldn’t answer his questions, saying the details of the transfer had yet to be determined.
Parks guidelines will have to be respected and the new operator will have to live within those guidelines, McDonough said.
Mayor Dee Conklin expressed concern that a new operator may not keep the pools open 365 days a year, as is the case now.
“It’s something we’re very proud of,” she told McDonough. ‘It’s a huge concern for a tourist town.”
Appearing somewhat unprepared for council’s concerns, which also included questions on the proposed length of contract the new operator would be offered and any yardsticks that would be put in place to guarantee performance as well as changes in cost and appearance of the pools, and what the privatization would mean for the local swim club, McDonough asked: “Do you have other input like this?”
Conklin said council would meet and draft up a list of concerns the village has.
“I think that would be very helpful,” McDonough said.
In reply to questions by Verboom and Conklin on whether or not the funding that had been allocated to complete the half-finished resurfacing on the hill leading to the park gates was still in place, McDonough said engineering problems had been encountered halfway through the project so the money was then used to fix another infrastructure project but that “we’re still committed to finishing that.”
Councilllor Karen Larsen expressed concern that if this and other cleanup projects weren’t handled before the transfer to a new operator, it would only drive up user costs for the hot springs in the future.
Among other points brought up by Verboom were the promises of improved signage for both Yoho and Kootenay and of a metre to ensure proper monitoring of Parks sewage, which the VRHS had taken on last year. Currently, VRHS charges for the service based on an estimation provided by parks, and McDonough said he was unaware of this.
“Whatever you can do to push us to the top of the list, we have a great asset here and it’s looking pretty tired,” Conklin told him. “We can’t keep apologizing for it because it’s not ours to fix.”