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The responsible traveller’s 5 essentials

Updated 3 août 2021

Since 2020, Quebecers have been travelling on home turf like never before! The current context offers us an unprecedented opportunity to discover our province’s natural, cultural and social resources. But we can't pretend that they are inexhaustible. Fortunately, we are developing a growing understanding of how to preserve them.

Here are a few simple things you can do to minimize the impact of your travels and increase the benefits for the areas that welcome you. They are largely inspired by an interview with Olivier Côté Vaillancourt, general manager of Parc régional du Mont-Saint-Joseph, located in Carleton-sur-Mer, in Gaspésie.

Discover life in the regions

Spend at least a few days enjoying the many pleasures a territory has to offer: that's the invitation Olivier Côté Vaillancourt is extending to everyone. Having moved from Quebec City to the Gaspé Peninsula, Olivier is a firm believer in the value of organizing your vacation plans around a base camp, where you get to know your destination in depth. You'll kill two birds with one stone by contributing substantially to the regional economy and reducing your greenhouse gas emissions through shorter trips. And most importantly, you'll find what you're looking for locally rather than spending long hours on the road.

Take the time to learn about the attractions in your target region before you leave. Be curious. Rationalize your trips and use shuttles and other modes of active, collective or collaborative transportation as often as possible.

Pay your access fees

Site access fees are a source of revenue that park managing organizations cannot do without. When I see people not paying access fees to the regional park and we find ourselves in the red, I don't think it's responsible on their part,” says Côté Vaillancourt.

These revenues are reinvested in the development and maintenance of the sites, trails and reception and accommodation infrastructures. They are therefore used to make the sites you visit accessible and safe while ensuring the protection of the natural environments that serve as their backdrop. Development projects can also be undertaken to enhance what each region has to offer. In the case of Carleton-sur-Mer, says Côté Vaillancourt, the autonomous revenues from access fees to the regional park are necessary to restore the chapel at the top of Mont St. Joseph, which is a very popular tourist attraction.

Some parks may even have to increase access fees to accommodate development or maintenance work that is required due to high visitor numbers, or infrastructure that is not well suited to high visitor numbers. Other parks have uncontrolled access points or require that fees be paid online.

This can lead to uninformed visitors mistakenly believing that access is free. When planning your trip, consider asking about access fees. Are they payable online or at park entry points? If there are a limited number of daily admissions, you may want to consider making your purchase sooner, rather than later. Take the time to learn about access fees and other fees (parking fees, campfire wood, portable stove rentals, etc.).

Make a donation to a local organization

Your trip is all about offering you a lot of benefits and making you feel good. It will also educate you about the issues affecting local ecosystems and the solutions being implemented to protect a region's biodiversity. If you're travelling for business, you may earn income from photos you capture or content you create for social media.

Have you ever thought about supporting a park or conservation organization that is active in the area you are visiting? By including a donation amount in your travel budget, you will ensure that you have the funds available to donate to the organization of your choice upon your return. Properly registered charities will even issue you a receipt that will reduce your income tax. Other organizations will offer you the opportunity to contribute to their mission or a project through creative ways. For example, at Parc régional du Mont-Saint-Joseph, you can support the development and maintenance of an exceptional network of trails by purchasing an annual pass.

Respect private land

No less than 60 landowners have made the hiking trail system in Mont-Saint-Joseph possible. Throughout Quebec, you can expect to walk, ride, climb and dock on private property. Rights of way on private land are negotiated by the organizations managing the outdoor sites. They are always subject to revocation, and as a result, entire networks can be undermined. This is what is happening in the Eastern Townships, where “the inappropriate behaviour of certain individuals has discouraged property owners from allowing walkers on their private land,” stated Nadia Fredette, executive director of Sentiers de l’Estrie, in a previous article We're all influenceurs... thanks to our photos.

Gather as much up-to-date information as possible

Regional parks have the responsibility of developing and showcasing territories, while preserving unique and fragile natural environments. According to Côté Vaillancourt, this is a balancing act starring two parties, and visitors must also do their part to minimize the impact of their outdoor activities on the environment. Parc régional du Mont-Saint-Joseph applies its seven Leave No Trace principles (les sept principes Sans trace) in all its operations and encourages its visitors to do the same by making them aware of the good practices to adopt in the park.

As Côté Vaillancourt likes to remind us: “We don't always know that we don't know.” Take the time to validate your information to be able to make good decisions in the field. Your best source will always be the official source: the park you are visiting and its employees. In fact, don't hesitate to recommend to the staff that they add some information online that you would have liked to have before leaving. Your opinion will help future visitors understand the full impact of their actions, which is no small thing when you know that dozens, even hundreds of people, follow the same routes, day after day. Activate your own power of influence by posting photos on social media that demonstrate responsible behaviour. Report your observations of trail conditions and signage to staff so they can make effective improvements.

Traveling responsibly is something you learn, one step at a time. To find out more about this topic, we invite you to read “Les 10 meilleurs conseils pour un voyage durable” (Top 10 Tips for Sustainable Travel).

Have a great trip!
 

Danielle Landry sees the popularity of nature and outdoor adventures as an opportunity to take care of Quebec's growing network of regional parks. Danielle founded De ville en forêt with the goal of enhancing Quebecers’ know-how and pride in the practice of responsible and sustainable outdoor activities. De ville en forêt is a partner of Leave No Trace Canada and the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, and a member of Tourisme durable Québec.