CANMORE – Parking lots and trailheads at some of the Bow Valley’s most popular hiking and climbing areas will be closed between Aug. 10-11.
The Grassi Lakes day use area parking lot, Grassi overflow parking lot, Grassi climber’s lot along Whiteman’s Pond and Goat Creek/Ha Ling trailhead parking lot will be closed to vehicle access in order for Alberta Parks to conduct construction surveys.
The entire day use site and trailheads, including the parking lots, will not be accessible to the public, and there will also be workers and equipment in the area on Aug. 6-7, according to an Alberta Parks advisory.
Grassi Lakes, Goat Creek and Ha Ling trailheads provide users access to activities including hiking, climbing, scrambling and biking, and experience some of the highest levels of visitation in the Kananaskis region.
"We are facing a situation where we are loving our parks to death," said Sarah Elmeligi, national parks program lead for Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) Southern Alberta branch.
Current estimates for visitation in all of Kananaskis Country, before COVID-19, was about three million per year, which is not far from Banff National Park's 4.5 million visitors per year.
"Kananaskis sees comparable visitation to Banff with far less budget," Elmeligi said. "What we're seeing this summer is the result of a lack of funding for Alberta Parks and they are struggling to manage the high volumes of visitors."
In order to effectively handle the large volume of day visitors, Alberta Parks will pave the parking lots, add washrooms and increased signage for user education. Construction is planned for 2021-22.
Elmeligi cites parking as one of the most important issues for parks. She said the short-term solution would be to encourage visitors to carpool, take public transit or have a plan b.
She also stressed the importance of developing systems to educate visitors as a long-term solution to manage visitation numbers in the parks.
"There needs to be visitor education to shape their expectations around our new reality in parks, which is that there's a lot of people here and that volume of people is starting to impact the ecological function of why these parks were protected in the first place," Elmeligi said.
Access to the climbing and hiking areas will remain open while the survey is conducted. Visitors will have to enter these areas by foot or bike, as there will be no access through the parking lots and trailheads.