WATERTON LAKES NATIONAL PARK -- What a difference six months makes.
It's so dry the fire hazard is listed as "Extreme" and a fire ban is in place. The dry summer follows a winter of snow that nearly buried the park.
Even more restrictions are planned following the long weekend. Parks Canada fire information officer John Stoesser says the park is planning to implement a limited backcountry closure starting Tuesday, Aug. 8.
"This would entail closing all the backcountry campgrounds, some of the trails, and prohibiting off-trail hiking in Waterton Lakes National Park for visitor safety reasons," Stoesser explained in an interview.
He said there have not been any wildfires in the park. There have, however, been some people violating the fire ban, and either being reminded or having their fires put out. But Stoesser said people have been generally cooperative and law enforcement hasn't been required.
The ban includes wood and charcoal fires. Only gas and propane appliances such as camp stoves and barbecues are permitted. Fire pits have been cordoned off and signed.
The fire hazard comes amid a very busy year for visitors taking advantage of free park admission. Numbers in the first seven months of the year are up 20 per cent from 2016, and with the busiest weekend of the summer approaching, the park is on track to set a record.
"Parks Canada has been dealing with fire management for over 30 years now, and so we have a very set and defined criteria for when a fire ban comes into place," Stoesser said. The department is using helicopter patrols to monitor the fire situation and keep an eye on lightning strikes. An initial attack team is based in Waterton, and a second team has been brought in from another park, with a second helicopter on standby.
Stoesser added 2003 was the last time the park had to implement a limited backcountry closure.
Waterton Lakes National Park Fire Ban details and retrictions can be found on the Parks Canada website
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