Construction on the Glacier Skywalk, a glass-floored observation deck on the Icefields Parkway in Jasper National Park, will be completed in the next few days.
Photograph by: Supplied, Edmonton Journal
EDMONTON - Michael Hannan says standing on a steel platform cantilevered in mid-air from a rocky cliff high above Jasper National Park’s Sunwapta Valley is even more awe-inspiring than he imagined.
“It’s really beyond our expectations,” said the president of Brewster Travel Canada. “When you get out there, it’s really quiet because you’re below the grade of the highway and it’s surprising how quiet it is, but then you hear the massive rush of the waterfall down there. It’s stunningly beautiful and you really couldn’t see that before.”
Construction on Brewster’s Glacier Skywalk, a glass-floored steel observation deck extending 30 metres over the valley on the Icefields Parkway, will be completed this week or next.
All that remains to be done is the installation of six interpretive stations along the 400-metre path leading to the observation deck in the spring.
It took two seasons of construction by Edmonton-based PCL and 200 metric tonnes of steel to finish the project. The design by Calgary’s Sturgess Architecture won an award at the World Architecture Festival in Barcelona in 2011.
“I would say it’s our most unusual build and not just because of where it was, but because of what was being built,” said Marc Chiasson, senior construction manager for PCL’s civil department in Calgary. “It’s a-one-of-a kind project. The design of it, I don’t think we’ll ever see something similar, at least in my lifetime.”
The biggest challenge was engineering the Skywalk to bear its load and withstand the oscillation from heavy alpine winds, he said.
Hannan would not disclose the Skywalk’s cost, but said the project met its budget and schedule, which was revised after some re-engineering for the foundation was required last year when drillers came across some fragmented rock.
Visitors will still have to wait until May 1 for the Skywalk to open for its inaugural season. Tickets will cost $25 for admission to the platform, but walking the trail is free.
The project was opposed by some environmentalists and Jasper residents concerned about the ecological impact and the privatization of a public national park site.
“It adds nothing to the true visitor experience,” said Sean Nichols, conservation specialist with the Alberta Wilderness Association. “You can see the glaciers and the wildlife perfectly well without those sorts of intrusive development that really degrades the habitat and causes significant disturbance to the animals that live there.”
The project passed a federal environmental assessment in 2012 and Hannan says the finished Skywalk proves its proponents right.
“From an overall footprint standpoint, it’s like putting a bridge on a highway,” Hannan said. “Unless you can tell me where the oil is spewing and the greenhouse gases are being created.”
The walk will be accessed via the tourist company’s nearby Icefield Centre. Public parking at the site will be closed, but the company will ferry visitors to a free viewpoint or a paid interpretive walk. Brewster hopes the attraction will double visitors to the site, which was formerly a 500-metre roadside pullout on the highway at Tangle Ridge and a popular spot for sightseers.
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