BANFF – Aggressive measures in Banff, Yoho and Kootenay national parks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 will be enforced by local law enforcement authorities.
Parks Canada closed the national parks to visitors Wednesday (March 25) following a weekend that saw thousands of people flock to the mountains, and has set up barricades and signs to block people from day-use areas and parking lots.
The Trans-Canada Highway, Highway 93 South and the Icefields Parkway are open, but Parks officials say residents and visitors can’t park along those highways to gain access to trails or the backcountry.
“Parking is not permitted on highways and roadways and Parks Canada will be collaborating with local police forces, or the RCMP, to enforce parking restrictions,” said spokesperson Megan Damini in an email.
The announcement means all parking lots, vehicle services, trails, washrooms, day-use facilities, visitor centres, and all camping facilities, including oTENTiks, yurts and backcountry camping, are closed until further notice.
Barricades and signs have been set up to block access to the Bow Valley Parkway (from its east end junction with the Trans-Canada Highway to its junction with Highway 93 South), Minnewanka Loop, Mountain Avenue, Sunshine Road, Norquay Road and Tunnel Mountain Road.
Access to the Town of Banff and Village of Lake Louise, as well as Field in Yoho, and all business and essential services will be maintained.
“Resident access to and from their homes will also not be affected,” said Damini.
“Residents are asked to follow the advice of public health experts by practising social distancing and cancelling any non-essential travel.”
Almost a week earlier on March 17, the federal agency suspended all visitors services, such as at the Cave and Basin and Banff Park Museum, visitor centres, and washrooms at day-use areas throughout the parks.
But Parks Canada needed to take additional measures this week following a weekend that saw droves of Calgarians and Albertans escape to the mountains for outdoor time. Tourism hot spots, such as Johnston Canyon and Lake Louise were packed.
Damini said Parks Canada will continue to monitor the situation closely and take action as required to respond to the evolving situation related to the COVID-19 health crisis.
“Parks Canada will be monitoring visitation given the temporary suspension of visitor services, the temporary closure of visitor facilities, and the suspension of visitor vehicle access,” she said.
The decision to shut down access to visitors also followed a call from Parks Canada’s rescue team a week earlier urging backcountry enthusiasts to play it safe amid fears an incident could add stress to the health care system during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Visitor safety specialists asked people to make conservative choices and to keep their personal risk to an “absolute minimum.”
“This could be a time to avoid the backcountry,” the team indicated in Parks Canada’s March 20 avalanche bulletin for Banff, Yoho and Kootenay national parks.
“Now is not the time to have a backcountry accident, which will stress the capacity of our team and the medical system.”
Visit pc.gc.ca for information and updates on the status of all places managed by Parks Canada.
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