A hundred years ago, a collection of tents on a curve of the Athabasca River~ and the 10,900 square kilometres that surrounded it ~ were named Jasper National Park and declared Canada's fifth park of its kind. At that time, a park superintendent confronted the first motorized vehicle to enter the park and ordered it out.
A century later the park now allows nearly a million cars a year to enter its boundaries, and even the glossiest of tourist brochures acknowledges that the park has had to lean "difficult lessons" about how to simultaneously protect its wilderness and share its assets.
It's quite by accident that Michelle and I arrived in Jasper for its "Weekend of the Century" birthday party. The morning after we arrived, we simply jumped on the bikes and rode the kilometre into town with the intention of finding a bakery cafe, but when we passed a town park opposite the railway station, we stumbled into a community pancake breakfast for $3.00 ($2.00 if you brought your own plate and cutlery)!
Nearby, tents and displays gave both visitors and locals a hands-on way of learning about the park's people, history, and animals. I passed a live bear trap next to a stuffed bear; kids donning mini-period costumes and looking very cute; samples of sweets from the valley's multi-cultural residents; and a doleful "Boomer" the beaver mascot sulking in a folding chair.
We learned that the park is struggling with three serious threats: fire, pine beetles, and habituated wildlife. During the rescue dog demo I also observed that the park also employs very hot young wardens who work with very smart dogs. But I digress...
A wander to the info table revealed that you could sign up for an interesting selection of walks with different themes. the Jasper Yellowhead Museum invited visitors to join a "Beyond Books" hike ~ where you accompany a local author on their favourite paths.
Parks Canada also created a "Field Trips" series where you could hear a warden or park specialist explain their approaches to bear management, controlling fires, or designing trails.
Michelle and I signed up for a couple of walks and hustled back to our hotel to tie on our walking shoes.