Painstak­ing prepa­ra­tions for packed na­tional parks

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - CANADA -

From avoid­ing burned out work­ers to en­sur­ing wash­rooms have enough toi­let pa­per, doc­u­ments show how Parks Canada painstak­ingly pre­pared for a record num­ber of visi­tors this year.

To cel­e­brate the 150th an­niver­sary of Con­fed­er­a­tion, Ot­tawa has made ad­mis­sion to Canada’s na­tional parks and his­toric sites free in 2017.

Pre­sen­ta­tions and memos ob­tained by The Cana­dian Press through the Ac­cess to In­for­ma­tion Act cite traf­fic snarls, run-ins with wildlife and visi­tor safety as some of the chal­lenges of­fi­cials flagged in the months lead­ing up to a pro­jected del­uge.

“While many Parks Canada places have the ca­pac­ity to com­fort­ably host more visi­tors, some of the most pop­u­lar places are al­ready heav­ily pa­tron­ized at peak times,’’ Parks Canada CEO Daniel Wat­son wrote in a Novem­ber 2016 memo to En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Cather­ine McKenna.

“The pos­si­bil­ity of in­creases dur­ing peak visi­ta­tion has the po­ten­tial for con­ges­tion, visi­tor safety and eco­log­i­cal im­pact risks. Parks Canada is pre­par­ing plans and mea­sures to man­age these risks.’’

The memo noted a po­ten­tial in­crease in hu­man-wildlife in­ter­ac­tions, es­pe­cially on roads and high­ways.

“Fur­ther­more, in­creased vis­its by non-tra­di­tional au­di­ences who may be less fa­mil­iar with na­tional parks may lead to en­try through unau­tho­rized points, use of un­of­fi­cial trails or be­hav­iours that may re­quire safety in­ter­ven­tions, such as visi­tors get­ting lost on trails.’’

One strat­egy was to try to spread out the crowds by pro­mot­ing some places with greater ca­pac­ity more heav­ily while re­duc­ing the pro­file of oth­ers through the me­dia.

“Sit­u­a­tions where over­loads are oc­cur­ring or can be ex­pected will be clearly com­mu­ni­cated, com­ple­mented by sug­ges­tions of al­ter­na­tive des­ti­na­tions,’’ the memo said. “Shoul­der sea­son ac­tiv­i­ties and events will be given greater pri­or­ity.’’

It said staffing and train­ing would be in­creased, par­tic­u­larly among jan­i­to­rial and front-line staff. Sea­sonal staff were to start their jobs ear­lier.

Parks at­ten­dance had al­ready been ris­ing by around six to seven per cent an­nu­ally in re­cent years, said Joel Rear­don, a spokesman for the agency’s Canada 150 plans.

There were 23.2 mil­lion visi­tors in 2015 and 24.6 mil­lion in 2016.

As of July, Parks Canada was see­ing a nine per cent in­crease from the same time last year across its net­work, Rear­don said.

“Some places are busy with­out a doubt, but noth­ing out of the or­di­nary and ev­ery­thing is man­age­able at this point,’’ he said.

“I can tell you all of our plan­ning go­ing into this sum­mer, go­ing into 2017, is pay­ing off.’’

This year’s visi­tor in­crease to date isn’t far off from the 27.3 mil­lion Parks Canada was fore­cast­ing for 2017-18 in an un­dated draft re­port on how the free ad­mis­sion would be im­ple­mented.

From avoid­ing burned out work­ers to en­sur­ing wash­rooms have enough toi­let pa­per, doc­u­ments show how Parks Canada painstak­ingly pre­pared for a record num­ber of visi­tors to the coun­try’s na­tional parks this year. Smoke haze from for­est fires burn­ing in Al­berta and Bri­tish Columbia hangs over Banff, Alta., in Banff Na­tional Park July 21.

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