Waterton visitor centre to be built at proposed site, despite opposition, says environment minister

Waterton visitor centre to be built at proposed site, despite opposition, says environment minister

Parks Canada is going ahead with plans to build a new visitor centre in Waterton Lakes National Park, despite fierce opposition from local residents and business owners.

Catherine McKenna, federal environment minister, issued a statement Wednesday saying that the new location for the centre within the townsite "is in the best interest of the park, its environment, visitors and all Canadians."

"Parks Canada manages our national heritage places on behalf of all Canadians and for all Canadians. More than 500,000 visitors each year enjoy Waterton Lakes National Park. Parks Canada has a responsibility to ensure it is effectively serving the needs of these visitors," the statement reads.

Plans had been in place to replace the park's 60-year-old visitor centre, which is located on the outskirts of the picturesque mountain village, since 2015 when the government announced $7.6 million in funding for the project. 

Then, the old centre was severely damaged by a wildfire in September.

The new location that was chosen is currently dedicated to recreational facilities, including a playground, water spray park, tennis and basketball courts, and public bathrooms. 

In August, McKenna's parliamentary secretary Jonathan Wilkinson travelled to Waterton to meet with community organizations about Parks Canada's decision.

"It is the worst possible decision that could be made. I've been fighting this since it was announced originally in March 2016," Garry Ursenbach, a resident of Waterton who spends half the year in the village, told CBC News on Wednesday. 

He said residents are angry because they believe the government hasn't adequately listened to their concerns. 

Ursenbach is a member of the group "Save The Waterton Field," which has over 1,500 likes on Facebook.

Bonnie Fromm, another Waterton resident and founder of the group, sent the following statement to CBC News:

"Minister McKenna's announcement today that Parks Canada still intends to build the new Visitor Centre on Block 39 is extremely disappointing. This is an unpopular decision among visitors, leaseholders and business owners and Parks Canada has failed Canadians on many levels. We are still looking at all of our options to prevent this monstrosity from being built in the heart of Waterton. We encourage the public to continue speaking out if they feel that this project should not go forward."

Construction of the new centre will begin in 2018. 

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