Parks Canada needs to clean up its act on Signal Hill before it imposes an increase in fees, says philanthropist Paul Johnson.
“From the beginning of the transfer of the top of Signal Hill and Cabot Tower, from the province to the federal government (Parks Canada), our ‘national historic site’ has been improperly cared for, mismanaged and subject to monumental neglect. The province should ask for it back,” Johnson said in a letter to the editor published today on page A19.
Parks Canada has proposed increasing all national park fees in line with the consumer price index in April.
But it’s also proposing a new season pass for the Cape Spear lighthouse and the Signal Hill visitors’ centre of $9.80, which can be purchased instead of the daily pass, currently $3.90.
Under the proposal, there remains no charge to use the grounds of either Signal Hill or Cape Spear.
Johnson, founder of the Johnson Family Foundation, told The Telegram the state of Signal Hill is “disgraceful.”
“Go up and pay a visit and look at what we do with Geo Park by comparison,” he said.
“(Parks Canada is) claiming they are running in the hole every year. I wouldn’t mind them running in the hole, except they are not doing the job. And they expect the public to pick up the cost. I don’t even know how they’d spend the money if they got additional money. It’s a management problem.”
The foundation has developed a number of projects around the city, including The Lookout and the Johnson Geological Centre and its adjacent park on Signal Hill.
Johnson said the Parks Canada Signal Hill grass is not being cut and stoneworks, pavement and history boards are not being maintained. And he said the two walks on the north slopes of Signal Hill are unsafe.
Johnson said the Grand Concourse Authority, which manages a network of walkways around metro, used to send condition reports to Parks Canada, but was asked not to do that anymore.
According to Johnson, the authority is considering taking out its signage approach to the two north slope walks because of the trails’ condition.
He remembers the first time he looked off Signal Hill when he was six or seven, walking with his father from Patrick Street. At the time, the road to Signal Hill was a dirt lane.
“It was astonishing to look out and see the Atlantic Ocean,” Johnson said of the view.
Johnson said Parks Canada should never contemplate charging to use the trails and the park itself, noting people watch the sunsets and sunrises and enjoy views of the city, as well as the sea.
“We’ve been doing it for hundreds of years,” he said.
In the last few years, Parks Canada redirected the road to Signal Hill, diverting motorists through the interpretation centre parking lot.
But that’s only annoyed residents who used to have a relative straight line to the top, Johnson said.
“It hasn’t made a nickel worth of difference,” he said.
Bill Brake, superintendent for Parks Canada’s Newfoundland east field unit, said for people who want to walk to Signal Hill or Cape Spear trails, or visit the grounds, the fee changes will have no impact, because that enjoyment remains free.
While federal tax contributions help establish parks and conserve land, Brake said, certain fees are needed to maintain services such as tours and interpretation centres.
Parks Canada operations, according to federal regulations, keep the revenues they generate, Brake said.
“The revenues we generate at Signal Hill stay at Signal Hill,” he said.
As for the diversion on the roadway, Brake said that was done for public safety because of accidents due to motorists speeding down the hill and close calls for walkers. At the same time, sidewalks were installed along the roadway.
Brake also said Parks Canada strives to keep its grounds and trails maintained.
“You’ve got to realize, we’re in a harsh environment,” he said, noting they require ongoing capital improvements, maintenance and repairs because of the effects of weather.
“Our trails our safe, no question.”
Brake said Parks Canada wants to hear from as many people as possible about the proposed fee changes, which follow a five-year freeze.
Parks Canada’s public consultations for the proposed price changes are taking place until
Feb. 18. Information is available at www.pc.gc.ca/eng/agen/tarifs-fees/consultation.aspx.