Parks Beyond Borders: Global National Park News

The Rouge River courses toward Lake Ontario. The popular Toronto area park will become Canada's first-ever "near-urban" park.

Editor's note: In 2012, the Traveler is expanding our coverage of national parks in other nations with travel features and this weekly sampling of global park news. And if you live in one of the 200 countries where our readers reside, send Randy your news or suggestions.

Canada to Launch First "Near-Urban" National Park

Canada’s environment minister just announced that the country’s first “near urban” park will be created in the 31-square mile Rouge Valley in Toronto. The area’s trails are already popular with hikers, bikers and runners.

The existing Rouge Park runs from from rolling hills at the glacial Oak Ridges Moraine north of Toronto, to the wetlands and sandy beach where the Rouge River empties into Lake Ontario. The swath lies west of the town of Pickering and southeast of Markham. The popular area includes a beach on the lake, a campground, and the Toronto Zoo.

The Toronto Star cited the economic impact of parks in explaining why the government’s new budget had been renamed the Economic Action Plan 2012.

"National parks generate significant economic activity by attracting visitors from Canada and abroad, and provide Canadians with access to our natural heritage," says the Economic Action Plan. "To provide opportunities for local residents and visitors to enjoy, discover and learn about the Rouge Valley's rich natural and cultural heritage, the government will be taking steps towards the creation of Canada's first national near-urban park in the Rouge Valley."

The newspaper said designating it is hoped that creating the national park will “curb the trend of declining attendance to Canada's national parks. The Rouge Valley's unique location puts it within a few kilometres of millions of potential visitors.” It’s estimated that 20% of Canada’s population is close enough to enjoy easy access to the park. Public buses already reach the short, handicapped accessible trail to spectacular Glen Eagles Vista.

Proponents have been urging the park’s consideration for national park status since the 1950s. The Toronto Star said city councillor Glenn De Baermaeker, one of those early proponents, called last Thursday's announcement "a dream come true."

"In 1987, me and a friend sat down at his living room table and drew the boundaries to this park," said De Baermaeker. "We've had a lot of ups and downs over the years, but to see the prime minister and Minister Flaherty and Environment Minister Peter Kent saying loudly and clearly that they'll protect this land is a dream come true for us."

Parks Canada is targeting fall 2012 to have agreements in place to transfer the land from town ownership.

In other news reports, Lilli Duoba, the town of Markham’s senior project co-ordinator for environmental planning and Rouge Park, says the town was told “this is a ‘very fast-tracked’ park that could be created in three to five years.”

Alan Wells, Chair of the Rouge Park Alliance, said, "All Canadians should be proud of our national park system, and to have them running (Rouge River) would be good for the people here and good for Parks Canada."

Another good thing is that the park is already a big draw for Torontonians. Rouge River Park should definitely be part of any travel itinerary for visitors to Toronto.

The economic impact of parks has recently been a hot topic in the United States. A nationwide program of National Park Service press releases have publicized the economic benefits of parks in local newspapers across the U.S.. The economic impact of state parks has also been part of the debate as shrinking state budgets threaten to close or reduce state park hours of operation.


Whale Rescue Training in New South Wales

Australia National Parks and Wildlife Service staff have been using life-sized inflatable whale replicas in training designed to help them free whales from nets and other hazards.

Parks spokesman Alistair Henchman says, "What you'll see ... down near the Spit Bridge,” will be “some quite large black objects in the water and small boats around them, but it's just a training exercise for our staff. We've got some dummies that'll be our whales that we're going to be disentangling.”

Henchman said, "the focus in this exercise is on the safety of the people undertaking these disentanglements."

Russia Promotes Newest National Park

A feature on “The Voice of Russia” Radio says the "youngest Russian national park ‘The Russian Arctic’ is planning to receive twice as many visitors as last year. The results of the first tourist season in this northernmost reserve in Eurasia were 11 Arctic cruises aboard 7 ships from three countries carrying 865 tourists from many parts of the world.” The cruise season is June to September.

“The Russian Arctic,” just 560 miles from the North Pole, opened in June 2009 and is the newest of the country’s forty national parks. It’s located in the northern part of the Novaya Zemlya archipelago on the islands of Franz Josef Land.

Voice of Russia Radio says the area was closed for “many years and became available to tourists only after the army left.”

An article and podcast on the Voice of Russia Web site says, “The region is famous for its many rare species of animals, such as the Greenland whale ... seashore bird colonies (there are about 60 of them) and walrus rookeries. Polar bears, the largest animals in the Arctic, choose those parts for bringing forth and raising their young.”

The national park’s vice director Viktor Kuznetsov calls visitng the park “extreme tourism.” Ninety percent of the tourists are foreigners from China, Japan, the U.S., Australia, and European countries. The cheapest 12-day cruise costs $10,000-12,000 and reaches the area by sea from the northern Russian cities of Murmansk and Arkhangelsk.

The Voice of Russia Web site says it was the first radio station to broadcast internationally and “has been shaping Russia’s image worldwide and introducing Russia to the world.”