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EDITORIAL: Changes to Moraine Lake inevitable, necessary

EDITORIAL: The decision to ban private vehicles on Moraine Lake Road should come as a surprise to no one.
Cartoon by Patrick LaMontagne/

The decision to ban private vehicles on Moraine Lake Road should come as a surprise to no one.

It wasn’t a matter of if, but when Parks Canada would rip the Band-Aid off from allowing personal vehicles from heading down the roughly 14-kilometre stretch of scenic road.

The decision had only grown in talk in recent years and with the recently released Banff National Park management plan and the Parks Canada-struck expert advisory panel on moving people sustainably in the park promoting such a plan, the clock hit 12 on private vehicle use on the road.

In the Parks Canada expert advisory panel, banning private vehicles on Moraine Lake Road and Upper Lake Louise were key recommendations.

The panel’s report comes as there was a 29 per cent visitation increase to Banff National Park between 2010-19, while Lake Louise had a 71 per cent increase in traffic during the same time period.

With the existing public transit infrastructure and private tour companies frequently running buses to both spots, it’s inevitable Upper Lake Louise will one day follow suit. People with a disability hang-tag on a vehicle will still be allowed to drive the road – a wise decision for access – and the number of cyclists will likely increase.

Banff National Park is in the midst of a pilot for a section of the Bow Valley Parkway that restricts vehicle use on the 17-kilometre eastern section between Johnston Canyon and Fireside day-use area for roughly three summer months each year to 2024. Last year just under 64,000 cyclists use the stretch of parkway.

There is also the ongoing overnight seasonal closure of the road to protect wildlife. The Banff National Park management plan emphasizes the importance of both maintaining and restoring the ecological integrity of the park. Providing a safe space for wildlife, particularly through the Whitehorn and Fairview wildlife corridors, is an essential goal for Parks Canada. With more cars going through the Whitehorn corridor, the long talked about wildlife crossing should be built sooner rather than later.

According to the Lake Louise, Yoho and Kootenay field unit, roughly 900 vehicles a day were able to find spots for the iconic lake that has a parking lot for about 100 spots. However, another 5,000 vehicles were being turned away as early as 3 a.m. without any possibility of getting a spot. 

Anyone travelling in the Lake Louise area can attest to the demilitarized-like zone that had been established for private vehicles to get in and out of Moraine Lake, especially in 2022.

The move isn’t without precedent with Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park relying on a reservation bus system that can only come about from a lottery. BC Parks have a day-use program for select provincial parks at peak hours and Zion National Park in the United States only allows access by special permit or shuttle bus.

For people hoping to get the perfect photo of a sunrise on an Alberta lake, there are dozens of perfect ones in the national parks as well as Kananaskis Country, or visitors can simply reserve space on a shuttle heading to Moraine Lake.

While provincial leaders such as Premier Danielle Smith and Forestry, Parks and Tourism Minister Todd Loewen bemoan the changes, national parks are federal jurisdiction. Smith and Loewen may be upset they didn’t get a courtesy call, there’s likely a few hundred municipal governments in Alberta rolling their eyes.

The federal government has also been clear on its climate action goals, which this move alone will do little in the grand scheme, but is one of a thousand moves needed to be reached in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

For those goals to be achieved and allow wildlife to thrive without simply paving over more of what people come to see, changes in what we’re used to are both inevitable and necessary.