ALBERTA – Almost a week after pictures flooded social media showing vehicles lined up in Kananaskis Country, the province has announced a temporary suspension of vehicle access to provincial parks and recreation areas.
Premier Jason Kenney announced the change for provincial parks Friday (March 27), while outlining additional measures being put into place to protect Albertans during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We understand the need to get outdoors, but now is not the time to visit our provincial parks and recreation areas without abiding by common-sense public health and safety measures. We are asking all Albertans to assist us by complying with the public access restriction and to stay home during this critical time,” Minister of Environment and Parks Jason Nixon said during the press conference.
The restriction applies to motor vehicles in parking lots and staging areas, Nixon said. If Albertans should choose recreation activities, it should be close to home like going for a walk in their neighbourhood, and if they decide to travel to a provincial park or recreation site, access is by non-motorized means only.
Last weekend, thousands of individuals headed to Kananaskis Country – where facilities such as toilets, picnic shelters, warm-up huts and winter camping were closed. Albertans left garbage, used tampons, diapers and human waste behind.
Officials pleaded with people to help keep the parks clean while also reminding the public that this is time grizzly bears are coming out of hibernation, and things such as garbage, used tampons and diapers are an animal attractant.
During the conference, Nixon explained the closure of facilities was to save supplies of personal protective gear for Alberta’s health-care and social services front lines, noting facilities such as washrooms can only remain open if Parks staff has access to the type of gear.
As of Friday afternoon, the province has confirmed 542 positive COVID-19 cases, up 56 from the day before, two recorded deaths and 33 individuals recovered.
The provincial announcement comes two days after Parks Canada shut down vehicle access within national parks, including Banff, Yoho and Kootenay, heritage sites and marine conservation areas.
The province also announced it will enforce the changes, with routine checks in provincial parks and on public land to support education and awareness. Officers can also issue fines for non-compliance.
“We are asking Albertans to exercise good judgment. Vehicles should not be left on the side of the road or private property. If a car is required to be left behind while using a park or public land, do not go,” Nixon said.
“Horseback and off-highway vehicle use are still permitted where legal and users are reminded to practise [social] distancing.”
Nixon also said access for First Nations and identified Metis harvesters is still permitted, as long as they abide by social distancing and have gatherings of under 15 people.
The restrictions came into effect Friday (March 27) at 1 p.m.
“We all need to do our part to help minimize the spread of COVID-19 among vulnerable Albertans, including ensuring protective gear is available for the service providers that need it most. If you decide to access parks and recreation areas at this time, please leave the area better than how you found it,” Nixon said.
– with files from Cathy Ellis