The Manitoba Lowlands is set to join Riding Mountain and Wapusk as the province’s latest national park.
The proposed park area stretches from the northern shores of Lake Winnipeg down to Chitek Lake Park Reserve, and will protect a diverse landscape that includes steep limestone cliffs, some of the most productive wetlands in North America and, perhaps most notably, Little Limestone Lake—a turquoise body of water that changes colour depending on the temperature.
Heidi Cook, a councillor for the Misipawistik Cree Nation, which has territory in the proposed national park, took part in consultations with Parks Canada about creating a national park in the province’s lowlands about a decade ago. She told reporters that the more she travels to other parts of the world, the more she realizes how special the region is. In addition to the stunning landscape, the area also supports a huge range of flora and fauna.
“There’s areas where the cliffs are right up on the water, there’s white sand beaches, there’s lots of creeks and marshes and very rich areas for wildlife, a lot of birds,” she told CBC News.
According to reports, it’s also the only place in the province that supports deer, moose, elk, and bison in one area. To have all four ungulates living together is special, which is why Cooke has some concerns about establishing a national park.
Unlike some of Manitoba’s more remote parks, like Wapusk National Park, this one would be easily accessible by road, which could draw significant numbers of tourists and put the ecosystem that they’re trying to protect at risk.
“The human impact. That’s the thing I’m most nervous about,” she said, and it’s no wonder. A recent federal report by Parks Canada showed that nearly half of all the ecosystems in the country’s national parks were in “fair” or “poor” condition.
Banff, which is Canada’s most popular national park, rated “fair” with no signs of improvement, despite the fact that the number of visitors continues to increase and reached nearly four million in the 2015-2016 season.
To avoid similar degradation of the land, Cook told reporters that she’d like to work with the government to create an Indigenous-protected area, giving her community more say in how the region is managed.