By April Lawrence
Ministry of Natural Resources proposed changes could affect parks in the Quinte region.
The plan includes the downgrade of 10 provincial parks and the change of the overnight junior ranger program to a stewardship youth ranger program, said John Steele the Ministry of Natural Resources spokesman for the transformation plan.
The three- year plan is intended to help the government save money, said Steele.
These are only the first changes in the three- year plan. Steele said the plan could evolve and might affect parks near the Quinte area such as Presqu’ile and Bon Echo Provincial Park.
The 10 parks will now have a downgraded title. This means that the parks will still be protected areas but will not be run as a park facility, said Steele. People will still be able to go to the parks during the day and go hiking, fishing, or other outdoor activities, but will no longer be permitted to camp in the areas. The changes are not expected to affect services at the remaining parks, said Steele.
“The 10 parks being downgraded have very low visitation,” said Steele. “Of the 9.5 million visits to Ontario parks this year only one per cent came from the parks being downgraded.”
An example is The Shoals near Chapleau which had fewer than 5,000 visitors this season, meaning less than one third of the sites at the park were in use at a given time, said Steele.
The overnight junior ranger program is being turned into a day- only stewardship youth ranger program. The program change is not expected to change the number of youth employment opportunities provided by the ministry, said Steele.
“They (the ministry) believe they can provide these opportunities more economically with day- based programs,” said Steele. “Through programs like the new stewardship youth ranger program, the new program will be built on the traditions and history of the junior ranger program.”
Alison Hauser, a 17 –year- old Grade Twelve student from London, who participated in the program this past summer, has started a petition to try to save the program.
“The program influenced me to become a leader within the community,” said Hauser. “Hence why I started the petition.” So far Hauser’s petition has more than 2,400 signatures.
Hauser was a junior ranger at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. She had hoped to continue in the program by applying for a supervisor position next summer. The program was open to 17- year- old young men and women, with the opportunity to apply as a supervisor to continue to participate in the program past that year.
Hauser and the other junior rangers fighting for the program have the support of many former rangers. Laura Vaughan, a 31- year- old human resources coordinator for the Waterloo Wellington Community Care Access Centre, from Milton is supporting the program. She worked as a ranger at Quetico Provincial Park when she was 17. She thinks the program should be saved for numerous reasons.
“Life skills like, independence, responsibility, work ethic, leadership skills and punctuality,” said Vaughan. “Work on projects that help sustain our natural environment.”
Hauser said that the influence and values the program encourages won’t be shown as well through a day program. She is also concerned that teens from the city won’t have the same opportunity to participate in the program that they had when they could go away to the ranger camps for the summer.