Park an economic driver

Newfoundland national park a prime example of the benefits a park would bring to the Okanagan Similkameen

A small number of individuals in our region are certainly creating a big fuss and doing their utmost to persuade the citizens of the South Okanagan/Similkameen to reject the offer regarding the establishment of a national park in our area.

I have had the good fortune to visit an east coast national park called Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland. I am writing to tell you what I learned and what I want to share about why we must have the national park.

The region and the communities close to and inside the national park in Newfoundland bear striking resemblance to our South Okanagan/Similkameen region in that they are relatively low in population, have been experiencing difficult economic times and do not compare well with other parts of Canada when matters of family incomes and employment are considered using Stats Canada data.

In 1987, the Government of Canada established a national park in that west coast region of Newfoundland. Tourism went from being a fairly insignificant part of the economy of that region to becoming its No. 1 employment provider and an economy enriching enhancement for what was once one of the poorest regions in Canada.

According to the Red Ochre Regional Board Strategic Plan for 2008 – 2011, Gros Morne National Park (and area) tourism provided employment for 1,320 annual/seasonal workers in retail sectors that benefit from tourist visits.

The tourism industry value was $35,000,000 for the Gros Morne area. Yes, that reads $35 million per year.

In the Gros Morne National Park area the annual visitation increased 60 per cent between 1992 and 2007. Visitations went from 100,000 to 160,000.

As well as a greatly enhanced infrastructure, they now have 13 motels and inns (nine of which have the capacity to host conferences); 57 bed and breakfast establishments; seven coffee shops; 22 craft stores/shops; six boat tours; 12 outfitters (hunting and fishing); 10 private RV parks; and 32 restaurants.

Based on this information, I think it is imperative that our municipal, provincial and federal politicians, chambers of commerce and our town councils get on board and support the national park sooner rather than later. Our region has access to an economic miracle. What are we waiting for?

Stefan Cieslik