‘It blows my mind!’
As reported earlier, the Boreal Centre for Bird Conservation in Lesser Slave Lake is closed to the public for six months, as of Oct. 1. What wasn’t reported earlier is that the province had apparently changed its mind about the closure (and minimal cost-saving), after a furious lobby effort by local municipalities and others. The local forest products industry stepped up with an offer of $35,000 to strengthen the case for letting the Boreal Centre continue as normal.
That’s why it came as a rude shock to find that the reversal of the closure decision never actually happened. Or it never got down to the level of the management of the facility. The shock and disappointment were evident in the reactions of Slave Lake Mayor Tyler Warman last week, and his colleague Reeve Murray Kerik of the M.D. of Lesser Slave River.
“It blows my mind,” said Warman at council’s Oct. 13 meeting. Closing the facility for six months of the year over $20,000, Warman continued, “It’s the craziest thing I’ve heard in my life.”
The Boreal Centre sees about 1,500 visitors in the winter months, many of them students on school field trips.
Warman spoke about the importance of the Boreal Centre as a tourism draw – second only to Devonshire Beach as an attraction in the provincial park.
“We’re trying to wave our flag,” he said, “and this is a big part of it.”
The town will continue to lobby for a reversal of the decision, the mayor promised. It’s “extremely disappointing,” he continued. “I don’t think anyone who did business like that would be in business for long.”
M.D. council discussed the matter in camera at its Oct. 14 meeting. Kerik called The Leader the next day to share his thoughts.
“We are extremely disappointed,” he said. “Why would you destroy a program that’s working? What are we saving here? It doesn’t make any sense.”
As of press time, the town and M.D. hadn’t received any direct communication or explanation from the ministry. They’ll be seeking clarification and the lobby to get the government to change its mind will continue. Meanwhile, Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pat Rehn is on side and trying to get answers from his colleagues in government.
“I’m trying to see what we can do,” he said last Thursday. “I’m going to keep fighting as hard as I can.”
Rehn was able to provide a bit of explanation for the apparent about-face mentioned above.
“We felt we had the problem solved,” he said. “But it came to light that Alberta Parks – they had cutbacks too,” and with budget cuts they aren’t able to cover normal winter operational expenses.