Painstaking preparations for packed national parks
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.