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Edmonton takes next step in establishing river valley national urban park

Edmonton is taking the next step in exploring the establishment of a national urban park in the city’s North Saskatchewan River valley.

The five members of city council’s urban planning committee voted unanimously on Wednesday to recommend to the rest of their elected colleagues that city administration move to the planning stage of the National Urban Parks program pending approval by Parks Canada.

The federal initiative began in 2021, when Ottawa announced it would spend $130 million to establish more national urban parks in cities across Canada. The funding comes from a $2.3-billion investment included in the federal government’s 2021 budget to address nature conservation.

The city and Parks Canada entered a formal agreement early last year to explore the creation of such a park in Edmonton. City administration has since discussed the idea of the park with various groups to explore potential sites and governance options.

Those partner groups include the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations, the Métis Nation of Alberta, Parks Canada and, in an observational role, the provincial government.

“For me, the opportunity is an incredibly exciting one,” said Coun. Anne Stevenson, the committee’s chairwoman. “The National Urban Parks program is extremely well aligned with our own city objectives. It really provides a chance for us to do what we would be planning to do anyways, but with access to federal funding. That's a key piece for me.”

When asked about how much commitment the city would have to give to the project, particularly in terms of funding, administration in attendance told committee members that the city could walk away from the project if any terms were found to be unacceptable.

“Whatever the park ends up being, if it does end up being something, the city will know the terms in full agreement before signing on,” Kent Snyder, branch manager for planning and environment services, said while answering questions from Coun. Tim Cartmell and Mayor Amarjeet Sohi about funding commitments and environmental protections. “There won't be any surprise terms, and if any of those are not acceptable, council does not need to continue on.”

Councillors Keren Tang and Erin Stevenson also sit on the urban planning committee.

A national urban park would differ from a traditional national park in that a range of governance models are possible. The federal government does not need to own or operate it. Such a park would also be free to access and open to the public.

The planning phase is expected to produce a park vision and boundaries, and would help secure federal funding to support development of the park.

Major goals of the National Urban Parks Program include supporting conservation, increasing access to and education about local nature and culture in urban areas, and further fostering reconciliation efforts with Indigenous groups.

Attaining a national urban park designation would let the city fund infrastructure, education and engagement projects, allowing more accessibility to the river valley, city officials have said.

“I couldn't say it more strongly that there isn't anything risky in the proposal of a national urban park for Edmonton's river valley,” said Linda Duncan, a director of the North Saskatchewan River Valley Conservation Society, a stakeholder group consulted during the initial phase of the proposed project. “The three objectives are protection of nature or conservation in enabling access, greater access by Edmontonians, to nature, and reconciliation. Well, those happen to be the objectives of every policy that the city of Edmonton over many decades have passed.”

Partners have suggested using a phased approach to implementing a plan to create the park because of the potential size and scope of such a site in the river valley.

In the planning stage, which is expected to take about a year, the committee expects to discuss and engage the public about the potential size, location and boundaries of the proposed urban park. Top Stories

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