Aug. 8, 2017
Is NB Set to Name a New Provincial Park?
EDMUNDSTON - Could New Brunswick be on the verge of creating its first new provincial park in almost two decades?
Premier Brian Gallant sounds keen on a proposal to create a more than 200-kilometre long river park that would follow the Restigouche and its tributaries, such as the Kedgwick and the Upsalquitch, part of a celebrated salmon run in northwestern New Brunswick.
In an interview Monday, the Liberal premier said many MLAs from the region were big on the idea of creating a new provincial park called the Restigouche Wilderness Waterway that would include better campgrounds and more recreational activities.
"There's obviously lots of work you'd want to do before you commit to something of that magnitude," Gallant said in between talking to people at festivities for New Brunswick Day in Edmundston's downtown artisans' square.
"There are consultations and lots of considerations that go into it. But our starting point is definitely that we're interested because we think it will improve the quality of life of people in the region and the province, and it will no doubt help our tourism experience, which will help grow the economy."
First pitched by the Restigouche River Watershed Management Council five years ago, the park proposal would build on existing campgrounds and eco-tourism businesses in one of the province's most famous wilderness areas.
David LeBlanc, the council's CEO, said a new park would conserve the wilderness character of the Restigouche River watershed and its ecosystems, while accommodating compatible recreational and tourism activities.
His group has already done a feasibility study, public consultations and a business plan to show the provincial government how a new park could work.
The council says government would have to spend an initial $1.7 million and transfer a 200-metre buffer on either side of the river and
its tributaries from Crown to parkland. Annual operation costs of $450,000 a year would be offset by new park fees.
"We'd offer better services, but we'd also increase enforcement," LeBlanc said in an interview. "Right now, people are there, but we don't know who they are and they do whatever they want. In a new park, people would have to have an overnight permit and there would be mandatory registration. Park rangers would be in place to enforce the rules."
The last time the government created a new provincial park was in 1998. Valerie Kilfoil, a spokeswoman for the province, said that's when the Fundy Trail Parkway was opened near St. Martins.
But you'd have to reach even farther back for the last time a park with full-scale services and amenities was inaugurated. Roger Drummond, a researcher at the provincial archives, said it appeared Sugarloaf Provincial Park was the last one created in 1972.
The Restigouche council already runs about 100 campsites at 15 different locations along the river and its tributaries, but they are constantly being vandalized and upkeep is minimal. LeBlanc said the budget the province provides the council to maintain the campgrounds -$98,000 a year -isn't enough.
"It's first-come-first-served, you never know what kind of person's going to be your neighbour and there's no one patrolling at night at the campsite to stop a party at three or four o'clock in the morning. It's not family-friendly and will not develop tourism along the river."
Most of the land is already protected or unharvestable to the forest industry, although about 2,000 hectares of harvestable land would be set aside. Private salmon clubs and outfitters would be allowed to continue to operate.
LeBlanc is confident in the park proposal. In June, the CEO said, he met with senior officials in the Department of Tourism, Heritage and Culture to discuss it.
A big supporter is Roberta Clowater from the New Brunswick chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.
"The entire Restigouche system is really well known for wild Atlantic salmon," she said in an interview. "And the Restigouche has some of largest of the species. The bigger the fish, the more young they'll have and the more likely they'll contribute to the salmon population. That's really important that we protect those cold rivers, where the salmon thrive. To do that, you need to protect the cold streams, the rivulets that feed in and keep the pools stable."
She said it had some of the best examples of old-growth forest in New Brunswick, important habitat for moose and endangered Canadian lynx.
The premier seemed more interested in the possible economic benefits of a new park.
"We want to make sure we have the best tourism operations and experience for people who come to visit New Brunswick," Gallant said. "Tourism is crucial to our economy. And there's no doubt that parks and recreational opportunities are important to the quality of life of New Brunswickers. So we recognize that and find that project interesting, and we'll see what we can do over the next few