Parks Canada's announcement this week that it would institute a reservation system for the buses that take visitors from overlow parking lots to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake during busy summer months is an important step in the right direction.
It is a step that further acknowledges that the visitor experience at these two extremely popular and iconic destinations is suffering as a result of their popularity.
But when it comes to the overarching issue of overtourism that has been creeping up on Parks Canada over its past decade of focusing on increasing visitiation by two per cent per year – it is but a single step in the right direction.
A more comprehesive and strategic approach is needed now more than ever from the federal agency because this problem is not going to go away on its own.
The congestion and overcrowding experienced at different times and locations throughout the valley each year is causing conflicts and creating negative experiences – for visitor and for those who call this place home.
It is a common refrain among locals – there are too many visitors in certain places and at certain times. The result is that we are unable to access or enjoy spaces and services in our communities or the surrounding area and that is a great cause of frustration for those who call this valley home.
It is also frustrating for visitors – who are flocking to places and by their very presence en mass are having negative effects.
The bad news is that these effects go beyond our personal experiences and underine the ecological integrity of these special and protected places.
As residents, yes we are frustrated when we can't do what we want to do, where we want to do it and when, because of the presence of others. But the deeper effect of overtourism is on ecological processes that as Canadians and Albertans we have chosen to protect through designating provincial and national parks.
The shores of Lake Louise and Moraine Lake during summer months are innundated with visitors and there are legitimate concerns about how the popularity of these locations needs to be managed by Parks Canada.
Two of the busiest places in Banff National Park are the perfect place to begin to incorporate new policies or procedures to manage the number of people and the effects of this phenomenon.
The bus reservation system, however, is not a silver bullet. It still requires people to know in January when they make the reservation when they intend to take a bus to either lakeshore during the summer months. Sometimes trip planning that far in advance just doesn't happen for many people.
For those who do plan that far in advance, it also requires visitors to use Parks Canda's online reservation system, which has proven to be completely useless at managing the amount of traffic it receives once reservations are opened up to the public. So even before visitors arrive, they are already frustrated with their online experience just trying to plan their vacations.
With a new 10-year management plan for Banff National Park currently in the works, it is vitally important that the federal agency consider how it could better manage overtourism.
More than a bus system, or online reservations – we would like to encourage Parks to go deep and consider the guidance provided by the Canadian National Parks Act as to what should be the ultimate priority when dealing with this issue.
At the end of the day, this is about managing expectations. Visitors expect to be able to enjoy the national parks system and special places like Lake Louise and Moraine Lake.
But as Canadians, we expect Parks Canada to do something about the problems created by the popularity of these special places. A comprehensive strategy aimed at ensuring that not only are visitors able to have an amazing experience visiting the crown jewel of the national parks system, but that those treasures it holds will still be what they are today for future generations as well.