BANFF – Parks Canada is temporarily suspending some services in Banff National Park to help mitigate the rapidly growing number of COVID-19 cases.
Starting Friday (Nov. 27), doors will be closed at the Cave and Basin National Historic Site and Banff and Lake Louise visitor centres, and partial access to the Bow Valley Parkway to deter visitors from going to popular tourist attraction, Johnston Canyon.
"The safety of our employees is one of our number one priorities along with the safety of both of our communities in Banff and Lake Louise, as well as visitors," said Daniella Rubeling, a spokesperson for Parks Canada. "Living in the valley, everybody is currently feeling the effects of these measures and on the lookout, and are just really concerned and wanting to make sure we're doing the best we can to minimize the spread of COVID-19."
Rubeling added that all other Parks Canada services such as the east gates, highway management, avalanche forecasting and critical services are still in place. And while the visitor centres are closed to the public, staff will still able to serve the public through email, telephone, social media and the website.
The temporary suspensions are in alignment with the recent enhanced measures from Alberta Health Services and Town of Banff earlier this week.
Parks Canada will reevaluate its options by Dec. 15.
While access to Johnston Canyon is still open, visitors will not be able to drive there. The partial closure to vehicles on Bow Valley Parkway is from the Fireside Day Use Area to just east of the Rockbound Lake trailhead near Castle Junction. Access to Rockbound Lake trailhead is still available.
Rubeling said Parks Canada is pursuing a shuttle system to allow continued access to Johnston Canyon "in a safe way," which could be ready for the holiday season and long weekends until the end of the year.
"That [partial closure] is more specifically to do with the Johnston Canyon trail and really wanting to minimize the risks of spreading COVID-19 in a place where there's the narrow one-metre catwalk where it's difficult to maintain space," said Rubeling. "Snowplows and other service vehicles will continue to be active on the Bow Valley Parkway ... so we are discouraging pedestrian use in order to avoid any kind of conflict with the vehicles that are on that road at this time."
Rubeling added visitation numbers in November at Banff National Park's east gate are comparable to previous years.
As of Friday (Nov. 27), there are 178 active cases in Banff and Lake Louise.
Earlier this week, the Alberta government declared a state public health emergency and placed a mandatory three-week restriction on social gatherings, business operations, and all levels of sport.
In response, the Town of Banff declared a state of local emergency on Wednesday (Nov. 25) as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the mountain town.