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New visitor reception centre in Waterton Lakes National Park
The present Waterton Lakes National Park visitor information centre no longer meets the needs of today’s visitors to the Park. The facility was built in 1958 and is too small (at 56 square meters or 600 square feet) to provide services beyond basic park information.
Visitation to Waterton Lakes National Park has increased by over 50% since 2000, from 300,000 to 477,000 visitors in 2015/16, and 45% of the park’s visitors are there for the first time. Waterton Lakes National Park is a major contributor to the regional economy: The park contributed $76.9 million to the Alberta economy in 2014/15 alone. Jobs are generated through Parks Canada operations, the many businesses that operate in the park, the regional businesses providing services to Parks Canada, the park-based businesses, and the visitors. This amounts to a total of 955 full-time equivalent jobs. 36% of visitors are from outside of Canada, including 27% from the US alone. It is the main destination of 98% of visitors, and they spend an average of three nights in the park.
The townsite already receives all visitors who come to the national park. There will be no increased traffic by relocating this facility in the community. In fact, traffic congestion, which is caused by the increase in visitation over the last 15 years will be relieved thanks to additional parking and new wayfinding in the townsite.
The need for a new Visitor Reception Centre and direction for its location in the community of Waterton Park, are confirmed in both the Waterton Community Plan (2000) and the Waterton Lakes National Park Management Plan (2010).
The Waterton Community Plan states, “The park is in need of a new Visitor Reception Centre. The park’s management plan directs that the Centre will be located in the community,” and “The plan anticipates the relocation of the visitor centre from its location near the Prince of Wales Hotel to the community.”
The park’s Management Plan recognizes that “The Waterton community is the gateway to broader national park experiences and virtually all visitors enter it at some point during their visit. The community is the park’s centre for information and interpretation, celebrates international peace and cooperation, and demonstrates ongoing efforts towards achieving environmentally sustainable development.”
In July 2015, the Government of Canada announced a new Visitor Reception Centre for Waterton as part of a much needed capital investment program of over $100 million for the national park.
Parks Canada investigated a number of potential locations for the new visitor center. Options were narrowed to two locations: 1) adjacent to the Parks Canada operations compound on the entrance road; and, 2) the central Townsite location. An architectural firm was then retained to undertake a third-party review of the two locations to ensure a final assessment based on recognised architectural standards and principles.
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Hon. Catherine McKenna Parks Canada Nature and Environment
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