Ride for cancer, while you can

February 24th, 2009
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The Alberta Cancer Society is holding a bicycle ride to raise money for research into the deadly disease. The route has not been announced yet, but is advertised to extend “along the majestic Rocky Mountains”. This is a good cause, so we hope they don’t run into trouble.

How could they get into trouble? Well, for one thing, if they plan to ride through the Rocky Mountain national parks, or the back-country of the Alberta eastern slopes, they could be butting heads with an over-zealous bureaucracy.

This has already been the fate of two other big sports events in the region. The Banff-Jasper Relay, a road race that has been run for over 20 years, was almost shut down a few years ago. Although their public website is reticent, other reports refer to Parks Canada demanding $80,000 for an environmental assessment, which almost caused the race to fold. This is an effort that relies on over 400 volunteers, it’s not a big bad corporation trying to make profits in the parks. Once run over two days, the race is now crammed into one, with the two legs run simultaneously.

Similarly, the TransRocky mountain bike race was forced to move from Alberta to, of all places, hyper-green British Columbia. Again, public comments on the web are muted, with references to avoiding the Alberta mud. In reality, the race was getting more and more popular and the Alberta parks types simply drew their line in the sand. This is consistent with my own experience working in the Rockies – the provincial types routinely try to out-do their federal counterparts.

What’s ironic about this is that Kananaskis Country, where the bikers were riding, was originally meant as a multiple use region, with only part of it designated as a provincial park. The last twenty years has seen progressive access restrictions, where more and more of the area is treated as a wildlife reserve. Too bad for average Joe taxpayer who wants to use a recreation area or, heaven forbid, participate in a bike race.

As MrK said, the ‘crats will have all kinds of reasons why activities need to be curtailed. The Banff-Jasper website refers to the race format being changed so that “vehicle-wildlife collisions can be prevented and littering minimized”. We’re talking about one night out of the year. To paraphrase my blog-mate again, they were probably actually worried about someone desperately emptying their bowels in the ditch under cover of darkness. It’s like the parks have an impact-intolerance worthy of  that vacation planet, Bethselamin, in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – with visitors weighed upon arrival and departure. If you try to leave heavy, the weight is forcibly extracted.

Hard to believe that the government once encouraged hotel-building in the parks to attract tourists. What were they thinking? Now taxpayers are hard-pressed to access a fraction of the mountain parks, and are under tight scrutiny when and where they do. This restrictive policy agrees with a solid segment of the Birkenstock and carabiner crowd. I remember one particularly zealous grad-school colleague of mine saying the parks should be bounded by a 30-foot climbing wall. Then only those who “deserved” to get in would use the parks.

Little did he know that, to a large extent, his wish would come true. It remains to be seen if the truly worthy goal of fighting cancer will trump slightly soiled ditches. Let’s hope it does.

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By John Weissenberger