BANFF – Parks Canada will reopen some national parks by the beginning of June, according to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Trudeau made the announcement Thursday morning (May 14) during his daily update on the COVID-19 response, saying it will be a delicate balance to manage physical safety with opportunities to enjoy nature and get outdoors this spring.
"We know that you cannot prevent Canadians from going outside when the weather is nice, you just have to help them do it safely," he said, adding it is important to create opportunities for wellbeing and support mental health.
He acknowledged with the May long weekend coming up, many Canadians are hoping to do just that by going outdoors to enjoy fresh air and green spaces. Trudeau asked the country to continue to respect closures and public health measures in place to protect them.
"It will be different than normal," Trudeau said. "Because lots of places, including our national parks, are still closed, but this is not forever.
"Canadians have been doing the right things these past many weeks and that is why we can announce today some good news for the weeks ahead. As of the beginning of June, some national parks will be partially reopening so that people in those areas can use trails and green spaces where physical distancing is possible."
As for whether or not the Rocky Mountain national parks – Banff, Yoho, Kootenay and Jasper – will reopen at the beginning of next month, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Jonathan Wilkinson said more details are expected over the next week.
He said reopened parks will be available for locals to enjoy outdoor spaces near their homes, but warned that services will be limited.
"We all know how important it is to get outside and into nature – it is good for your mental and physical health," Wilkinson said. "I would emphasize that services will be very limited to begin with."
Trails, grounds, day use areas and green spaces will be available for public use as long as physical distancing is possible. Washroom facilities and comfort stations will also be available.
Wilkinson said reopening of services in national parks will be done in a thoughtful manner that follows public health guidelines to keep staff and visitors safe.
Camping facilities inside national parks will remain closed until June 21, according to the announcement. Parks Canada continues to assess how these services may resume. Group activities and public events remain prohibited until further notice.
The prime minister called on Canadians to be responsible about their outdoor recreation and to make adjustments to allow social distancing.
In addition to national parks, some national historic sites, marine conservation areas and national wildlife areas will also begin to be gradually reopened at the beginning of June.
Trudeau said it is the intention of the federal government and its agency Parks Canada to match provincial measures to reopen those regional parks systems.
"We know this pandemic has hit very differently across the country and therefore there will be different phases and steps to reopen across the country," he said. "We will try to align with the provincial jurisdiction and regional parks that are nearby."
Provincial parks in Alberta reopened to vehicle access on May 1, however visitors are urged to respect social distancing recommendations and warned that washrooms and infrastructure remained closed.
Banff Mayor Karen Sorensen encouraged Albertans to not visit the Banff townsite this weekend and to wait until June, when the community would be ready to welcome them back.
“We recommend waiting until June when we have all the measures in place that will be required,” she said, noting the safety of residents, employees and visitors is the top priority.
“We’re working with our tourism industry partners and Alberta Health Services on measures needed to safely reopen our community.”
Trudeau said considerations will be given to national parks that are located near vulnerable populations. He said national parks in the northern territories near Indigenous communities, for example, will likely not be opening at the beginning of June.
"We must remain cautious and we have to be ready to adjust to new circumstances," he said.
–With files from Cathy Ellis
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