More than half of Canada’s national parks, including Pacific Rim on Vancouver Island, are to reopen to day use next week.
Minister of Environment Jonathan Wilkinson says 29 of the 48 national parks will reopen for day use at the beginning of June and there will be access to washrooms.
“It’s an opportunity for folks, particularly those who live reasonably close to national parks, to be able to get out in nature in a manner that can allow physical distancing,” he told The Canadian Press.
All national parks, historic sites and marine conservation areas have been closed since the end of March to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Most of the parks are reopening for day use on June 1 but Pacific Rim National Park will be on June 4.
For example, starting on June 1, 2020, Gulf Islands National Park Reserve will offer limited visitor services.
Visitors will be able to access all parking lots, day-use areas, and trailheads. Until June 1, those facilities remain closed.
All washroom facilities will remain closed after reopening and Sidney Spit seasonal dock and ferry service will not be in service. All front-country and back-country camping facilities remain closed until at least June 21.
Starting June 4, Pacific Rim National Park Reserve will be offering limited visitor access and basic services.
Visitors will be able to access the following services and facilities:
- Select parking areas, beach accesses and nearby washroom facilities in the Long Beach Unit, including:
- Long Beach North
- Long Beach South
- Wickaninnish Beach
- Select day-use trails in the Long Beach Unit, including:
- Rainforest Trail A and B
- Shorepine Bog Trail
Until June 4, those facilities remain closed.
In addition, Green Point Campground in the Long Beach Unit remains closed until at least June 21. Camping in other areas of the national park reserve, including the West Coast Trail, Keeha Beach, and Broken Group Islands, is suspended until Parks Canada and First Nations assess how these backcountry services might resume.
Wilkinson said parks such as Banff, Jasper and Waterton in Alberta will open day-use areas, trails and roads to visitors.
In Banff, the town and many of its businesses have been preparing for a June 1 reopening.
“This has been devastating for our town that relies solely on tourism as our economy,” said Mayor Karen Sorensen, adding it was difficult to ask visitors to stay away. “We wanted to make sure we had protocols in place to make it safe not only for our community, but also for our visitors.”
The town’s council decided Monday to close two blocks of its often-crowded main street, Banff Avenue, to vehicles to make more room for pedestrians.
“If … people need to line up to get into one of our businesses on Banff Avenue, there will be space,” said Sorensen. “There will be space for some outdoor patio seating and some outdoor retailing opportunities and there will still be space for outdoor pedestrian flow.”
Banff is the country’s busiest national park, with about four million visitors annually.
Wilkinson said some parks, including many in Northern Canada, will remain closed to reduce travel to areas sensitive to the spread of COVID-19.
“There’s also some of the parks that are co-managed with First Nations, like Haida Gwaii, where the First Nation has asked that the park not be reopened,” he said.
Camping, he said, won’t be allowed in national parks until at least June 21.
“Camping is going to be something that a lot of Canadians are going to look at, given that travelling outside the country is going to be particularly challenging,” said Wilkinson.
The British Columbia Parks website crashed soon after it opened summer bookings for provincial campsites Monday, while Alberta Parks saw nearly 40,000 campsite bookings on its first day of rebookings.
Many provincial governments have reopened camping for June 1, but are only allowing their own residents to reserve spots to prevent non-essential travel.
Wilkinson said Parks Canada will have protocols in place, but the agency doesn’t plan to put in restrictions by province.
“We are a national agency that belongs to all people who live in this country,” he said. “We will be telling people that they need to be paying attention to the travel guidance of their respective province or territory.”
Some governments have restricted travel in and out, while others have asked people not to travel to their jurisdictions.
Wilkinson said there could be restrictions on a park-by-park basis.
“In some cases, we’ll be opening more things because we think it’s set up in a way that can accommodate physical distancing,” he said. “In others, where there are some … trails that are extremely busy, we may not open those because we can’t allow for safe usage.”
Wilkinson said he realizes Canadians have been through a lot in recent months.
“Many have stuck very, very close to home,” he said. “One of the key things for us is trying to give Canadians opportunities to get out, as summer comes, to enjoy nature.
“It’s part of what Canada is for most Canadians.”
With files from Colette Derworiz, The Canadian Press