In 2010, Brewster Travel Canada proposed to redevelop the Sunwapta Canyon Viewpoint on the Icefields Parkway in Jasper National Park into a new interpretive attraction that would provide visitors of all abilities with a unique mountain experience. The development included the Glacier Skywalk, a 300 m glass-floored walkway projecting almost 30 m out over the Sunwapta Valley. Our team prepared the environmental assessment for this project, as required under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA).
Jasper National Park is part of the Rocky Mountain UNESCO World Heritage Site, and developing a project inside the park presented some unique challenges requiring innovative design and monitoring solutions to understand and mitigate the potential adverse effects from the Project, and to ultimately support project approval.
The Glacier Skywalk attracted a high level of public interest and was frequently featured in local, national and international news. A key area of public concern focused on the potential impacts of this project on local wildlife, particularly mountain goats (Oreamnos americanus) and bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis). The difficult ecological questions surrounding the potential adverse effects of the Glacier Skywalk on local wildlife meant that there was considerable risk that the project may not be approved. To add to these challenges, there was a lack of site-specific data on mountain goats and bighorn sheep.
Drawing on their ecological expertise and decades of experience, our team developed a unique approach to assess potential impacts from the Project. Using a combination of remote cameras and field observations, we were able to provide information about how mountain goats and bighorn sheep were using the site and interacting with people prior to developing the project. Based on the high-quality results obtained during the first year of the monitoring, our team was able to confidently identify potential impacts from the Glacier Skywalk and implement changes to the project design and construction schedule that would minimize the impacts of the project on goats and sheep.
Our team's commitment to technical excellence helped Brewster to obtain approval to develop the Skywalk in early 2012, on the condition that a monitoring program was implemented for five years post-construction to further evaluate potential effects to mountain goats and bighorn sheep and provide opportunities for adaptive management. Our team monitored mountain goat and bighorn sheep use of the area around the Glacier Skywalk during construction and for the first three years of operations. Results of this work supported the predictions made in our environmental assessment and indicated that the Glacier Skywalk did not substantially affect bighorn sheep or mountain goat patterns of site visitation when compared to pre-construction 2011 data.
Our team's work was recognized with an Award of Merit for the Glacier Skywalk Environmental Assessment and monitoring project at the Consulting Engineers of Alberta Showcase Awards in February 2014.
This work was performed by Golder professionals who joined WSP in an acquisition completed in 2021.