WINNIPEG -- Travel Manitoba is seeking a consultant’s help to review Manitoba’s provincial parks.

The Crown corporation issued a request for proposals last week for a study aimed at evaluating the potential to “improve visitor satisfaction, increase visitor spending while achieving greater financial sustainability.”

The Manitoba government has previously said a renewed provincial parks strategy is needed to improve visitor experience, fund park services, and identify opportunities to attract private and philanthropic investment to upgrades facilities.

“It is about improving provincial parks for everybody going forward,” said Travel Manitoba CEO Colin Ferguson. “We know that provincial parks have had tremendous usage this year as a result of COVID.

“Our goal is to find ways to improve visitor experience, increase economic development, and look at making more sustainable investments in infrastructure.”

The RFP states a portion of the study will evaluate all 76 operational provincial parks to identify and rank the top 15 from a business feasibility perspective. The study is expected to identify the parks that have the most potential to generate significant tourism business, revenue, and recover costs.

Part of that evaluation will look at “gaps in services, amenities and infrastructure” and “what investment (public and private) is needed to make the top five parks viable.”

The study will also look at what assets should be divested and identify partnerships with the private sector, municipalities, and First Nations to improve park infrastructure and services or decommission and transition parks to other models, where groups other than the province would operate or own parks to serve local communities.

NDP MLA and environment and climate change critic Lisa Naylor sees it as a move towards the privatization of some parks.

“Our parks need to be protected and invested in for future generations of Manitobans - not broken up and sold off,” Naylor said in an emailed statement.

Liberal leader Dougald Lamont also condemned the move, suggesting the Progressive Conservative government should be investing in park infrastructure.

"Public parks belong to all of us. We all own and pay for them through our taxes, and we should be making sure everyone can access them, not just a privileged few," said Lamont in a release on the party’s website. "This is not about improving parks. It is about a broad conservative strategy of transferring commonly owned, public property into private hands for private profit."

Ferguson said that’s not the goal of the study.

“The project is not about privatizing the provincial park system,” said Ferguson. “I think it’s being interpreted by some as being privatization and that is not the case.”

The Parks and Resource Protection Division (PRPD) of Manitoba Conservation and Climate has identified a number of challenges in provincial parks including aged infrastructure developed 40-50 years ago, financial sustainability challenges, and delivering programs to 76 operational provincial parks.

It also notes Manitoba has the largest provincial park-based cottage community in all of Canada.

Part of the study will involve evaluating perceptions of provincial park users, including cottage owners, business owners, campers, and day users. 

The study will examine facilities, fees, and investment opportunities.

The contract, which carries a $200,000 budget, is being funded and managed by Travel Manitoba, in partnership with the PRPD.

CTV News has reached out to Manitoba Conservation and Climate Minister Sarah Guillemard’s office for comment, with her office providing a statement.

"The primary objective of the study is to develop the business case for a new Manitoba Provincial Parks' organizational model in satisfying the province’s provincial park mandate, which is to renew the provincial parks strategy to enhance visitor experience, modernize funding mechanisms for park services, and identify opportunities to attract private and philanthropic investment to upgrade facilities," the spokesperson said in an email.

"The goal of the study is to provide an enhanced experience in Manitoba’s parks for all citizens. The study will evaluate the potential to improve visitor satisfaction and increase visitor spending while achieving greater financial sustainability. Though the study would assess the potential for divesting park infrastructure assets, the province will maintain jurisdictional control over all provincial parks".

The RFP can be found here.