Future of Edmonton Nordic Biathlon Centre uncertain under parks restructuring

Two weekends ago, close to 200 provincial athletes competed at the Edmonton Nordic Biathlon Centre in Strathcona Science Provincial Park, but the president of the nordic club said he is uncertain what the future holds for the facility.

On Saturday, the Alberta Government announced it’s making changes to the province’s parks model and is creating partnerships to manage small provincial park sites.

The Strathcona Science Provincial Park east of Edmonton is one of the 164 parks listed. Edmonton Nordic runs the Biathlon Centre, which has leased the land from the Alberta Government since at least the 1990s.

Club president Chris Hanstock said the group wasn’t consulted and he noticed the park on the list after reading a news story. 

“Total shock really. I mean it was totally out of the blue,” Hanstock said.

“It makes it very uncertain. I mean, we’ve obviously invested tens of thousands of volunteer hours into this facility.”

The park sites on the list are mainly small and under-utilized provincial recreation areas that would become vacant public land, a government news release states and work is underway to determine if the facilities and areas could stay open under a public lands model.

The Biathlon Centre neighbours the Sunridge Ski Area in the Strathcona Science Provincial Park in Edmonton. (Travis Mcewan/CBC)

The Strathcona Science Provincial Park is also leased by Sunridge Ski Area, which it uses as a ski hill overlooking the North Saskatchewan River.

Both leases seem to already fit what the Alberta Government is attempting to do, but Hanstock is eager to get clarity. The group has grant funding for upgrades to the Biathlon Centre but will hold off, until its future at the site is clear.

“We would be very interested to find out about what those partnerships might look like,” Hanstock said.

“But at this point we don’t know what the cost is going to be, [or] whether there are going to be other groups that might have an interest in that particular park or competing interest.”

Minister of Environment and Parks Jason Nixon acknowledged existing leases on Thursday, but noted they are not exempt.

“The existing lease agreements would have to be negotiated through the appropriate processes. The law is very clear on that,” Nixon said.

Details of the next steps toward determining potential partnerships are sparse.

A news release states more information will be available in early May 2020.

“We’ll see where it ends up as we go through this process over the next couple months,” Nixon said.

Alberta NDP environment critic Marlin Schmidt called the plan a bad decision that’s going to harm Alberta parks.

“The government didn’t engage in any consultation before they made this decision,” Schmidt said.

“I highly doubt that they’re going to enter into good faith negotiations with any of these partners who are already involved with managing places like the Strathcona Science Park.”

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