BOW VALLEY – Visitors still flocked to Kananaskis Country on the weekend despite the province shutting down vehicle access, while Banff and Canmore were relatively quiet following pleas from the mayors of both towns for visitors to stay home.
Alberta Parks shut down all vehicle access to provincial parks, recreation areas and staging areas on public lands on Friday (March 27) and Parks Canada did the same for its national parks two days earlier to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Alberta Parks didn’t want a repeat of the previous weekend where staff discovered garbage, food, used tampons, dirty diapers and human feces in its day use areas – and thousands of people not practising social distancing of two metres.
Jess Sinclair, press secretary to Minister Environment and Parks Jason Nixon, said visitation overall varied by region, but Kananaskis Country was still busy on Saturday (March 28) with cars in parking lots and on the side of roads, prior to barricades and notices going up.
“We rectified that situation on Sunday through more access closure notices and barricades and expect to have those applied to all Kananaskis Parks’ sites by the end of today (Monday, March 30),” said Sinclair.
“While we can appreciate the desire to get out and enjoy nature, we’re asking Albertans to rethink travelling to our parks and recreation areas, especially with our facilities closed and no services.”
For example, Sinclair said the Canmore Nordic Centre is closed and only accessible by walking, skiing or by fat biking, adding that no trails are being groomed for cross-country skiers.
“This is about the safety and wellbeing of Albertans and our Parks staff, and we’re hoping Albertans will chose recreation activities closer to home,” she said.
“If you do choose to go, remember to practise physical distancing, avoid gatherings of more than 15 people and leave the land better than you found it.”
Banff Mayor Karen Sorensen said both Canmore and Banff did a good job getting the message out to Calgarians and Albertans, noting their pleas for visitors to stay home were picked up by regional media outlets.
“My experience of this weekend is that it was quiet in our town and I would say we were successful in getting the word out,” she said.
“To see Banff Avenue with nobody on it, well, I have never ever experienced that.”
Canmore Mayor John Borrowman said Canmore’s downtown was certainly much quieter than the previous weekend.
“I know that first hand,” he said.
The Town of Canmore worked with its provincial partners in the Kananaskis Improvement District to move the barricade on Spray Lakes Road to near the Rundleview neighbourhood turnoff, to prevent people from parking along the road to access the Canmore Nordic Centre.
Borrowman said the Town was monitoring traffic and parking issues in the vicinity.
“I’ve just recently learned that Alberta Parks has a truck literally blocking the road just past Rundleview,” he said.
“It’s very clear and they have every intent of enforcing the rules; no parking on highways and the shoulders.”
While Canmore still encourages residents to get outside and enjoy the fresh air, Borrowman asked that people please stay close to their neighbourhoods and maintain the required physical distance of two metres.
“It’s important to get out, but we’re asking everyone to be very careful,” he said.
Mayor Borrowman said it’s important to come together as a community to address the serious challenges of COVID-19.
“It’s a time for all of us to be more considerate of friends and neighbours, and show greater compassion and empathy, and not to be lashing out in anger,” he said.
Parks Canada was unavailable for comment at deadline.