Travel Manitoba is getting outside help to evaluate Manitoba’s provincial parks

By Chloe Pommer

Visitors enjoy Trappist Monastery Provincial Heritage Park in Winnipeg on November 3, 2020./CHLOE POMMER

Travel Manitoba will be evaluating Manitoba’s provincial parks with the help of a third-party contractor, leaving the public uncertain about the future of provincial parks.

The province’s parks mean a lot to many—whether it’s camping, hiking, cycling or day trips to the beach.

Many Manitobans have a deep connection to their provincial parks that could be at risk of privatization.

“I don’t think parks need to make money,” said Karen Armstrong, a yearly provincial park pass holder. “Does it have to be profitable at all? Users should pay, but it shouldn’t be on a profit scale.”

“My concern is that they would chop up the larger parks for a start, like Birds Hill, which is a very large provincial park,” said Armstrong. “If they were to sell off bits and pieces of that, it would diminish the variety that you have at the park for recreational activities.”

Privatization could have an impact on people visiting provincial parks for their first time.

Kellen Molloy a tourism development student at Waterloo University, said people will immediately lose interest.

He said changes in ownership that come with privatization could bring more development, but construction could lead to significant drops in traffic.

“It makes me a little nervous,” said Rebecca van Ginkel, a student at the University of Manitoba whose family has a cottage in Whiteshell Provincial Park.

Compared to last year, visitation increased by 13 per cent and campground bookings increased by eight and a half per cent in 2020, the Manitoba government said in a July news release. Parking lots overflowed and trails became cramped.

As COVID-19 continues, Rebecca van Ginkel said she believes high visitation at provincial parks will continue as well. She was a frequent provincial park user before the pandemic and her use of provincial parks increased during the pandemic.

The new contractor for the provincial government’s crown corporation was set to start on November 9, 2020.