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LETTER: Parks Canada must do more to preserve ecological integrity at Healy Pass

Editor: I hiked to Healy Pass in Banff National Park on July 27, 2020. As a vegetation ecologist and a member of the public, I was appalled to see a significant increase in the amount of alpine vegetation damage from trampling at Healy Pass compared to when I last visited in 2018.

Editor: 

This letter was sent to the superintendent of Banff National Park and Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Jonathan Wilkinson. 

I hiked to Healy Pass in Banff National Park on July 27, 2020. As a vegetation ecologist and a member of the public, I was appalled to see a significant increase in the amount of alpine vegetation damage from trampling at Healy Pass compared to when I last visited in 2018.

Fragile alpine vegetation can take in excess of 30 years to recover from one year of trampling. At the current rate of trampling, the top of the pass could be denuded of vegetation in five to 10 years if proactive measures are not taken.

The trampling of vegetation, including the wildflowers for which Healy Pass is renowned, also greatly reduces the visitor experience and enjoyment. It is poor visitor experience and enjoyment to expect to see wildflowers and instead see only bare ground caused by human overuse.

A solution could be to install a short gravel loop with benches at the summit of Healy Pass to give visitors a place to sit other than on the vegetation and to give a clear demarcation between on and off trail.

I am also concerned about poor signage at the pass informing visitors of the off-trail hiking closure and the reason for the closure.

There is also no interpretive signage indicating the importance of the area for both wildlife (especially grizzly bears) and rare Canadian alpine plants.

I observed two hiking parties (seven-to-eight people total) walk right past the tiny "Trail Closed" sign for the Monarch Ramparts and not see it.

I spoke with one of the hiking parties and they were distraught that they had accidentally missed the sign and gone into a closed area and that there is a significant fine for violation if they had been caught.

If visitors do not see the signage it is ineffective. It also shows a lack of enforcement and education by Parks Canada staff.

There has also been no effort to deactivate and restore the informal trail leading up the Monarch Ramparts. Nor is there signage stating a closure for restoration that is common elsewhere in Banff National Park.

The informal trail is so well worn it is indistinguishable from the main path. I know Banff National Park has a vegetation restoration team.

Why is their expertise not being utilized to protect the fragile alpine vegetation? Are they so underfunded that they cannot complete critical projects in ecologically sensitive areas of national importance?

If so, it is a shame that taxes are not being wisely spent to ensure that national parks are left unimpaired for future generations.

Ryan James,

Edmonton



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