The Edmonton region's river valley could gain official status as a national urban park if a newly signed statement of collaboration between the city and Parks Canada to explore the possibility develops into a full-fledged partnership.
Council's urban planning committee received an update from administration on Nov. 15 about how Edmonton could participate in the new federal program that was established to create a network of national urban parks, similar to Rouge National Urban Park near Toronto.
According to the report, the benefits include access to federal funding, advancing Indigenous reconciliation, and increased access to nature; while some potential drawbacks are the regulatory requirements and the loss of municipal autonomy in decision-making. A national urban park also has the potential to bring tourism to the region.
Steve Donelon, board chair of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) Northern Alberta chapter and a director of the North Saskatchewan River Valley Conservation Society, spoke in support of the project at the committee meeting along with three other speakers.
"Biodiversity protection, climate change mitigation, and healthy ecosystems would benefit Alberta, Canada, and the world, and Indigenous leadership would strengthen the protection and presentation of natural and cultural heritage," Donelon said, explaining that if successful, the park would be an "extraordinary legacy gift" from council to Edmontonians.
Edmonton Mountain Bike Alliance president Joe Yurkovich also spoke and flagged some potential issues, including having to engage with another level of government to continue EMBA's trail maintenance work, and how Canada's first national urban park approaches cycling.
"It is not an appropriate model for a national park in our region," he said, indicating that cycling is prohibited on all hiking trails in Rouge to protect ecosystems and reduce trail erosion.
Yurkovich asked that the project take into consideration how the river valley is currently used, ensuring that the needs of all users are balanced. He would also like EMBA and other conservation organizations to be involved in discussions about the national urban park.
No specific candidate site has been chosen so far, but the federal government did identify a section of the North Saskatchewan River Valley between Devon and Fort Saskatchewan in its announcement earlier this year.
An assessment and feasibility report will be developed (and paid for) by Parks Canada over the next six to 12 months. There is no requirement to move ahead with establishing the park after the report is presented to city council.