WATERTON – Waterton Lakes National Park has been a busy place this weekend, and when you consider the factors behind the numbers, attendance hasn't diminished too much since the park reopened this year.
Visitor Experience Manager Locke Marshall says despite some popular areas of the park still being closed due to the damage of the Kenow fire, visitation has been very strong.
“As you might remember, 2017 was a real banner year because it was a free attendance year. Visitation was extremely high, but even in the years prior to that the visitation was increasing steadily for quite some time with 2017 and 2016 as the highest years on record,” Marshall said.
This year, the July visitation was 37 per cent lower than 2017 and 22 per cent lower than 2016.
But Marshall says you only have to go back and look at 2014 to see they’re basically at the same level as then.
“The visitation has been very, very strong. Due to the wildfire last fall some things are closed, and we also have less space for visitors. It’s good that people are paying attention and realizing that although lots of things are closed, there are also lots of things are open and available”
People visiting the park have been very patient as well.
“Most people come, and their expectations are already set because they’ve heard about the wildfire last year, so they understand that some things will have to remain closed until it’s OK for us to let them go,” Marshall said. “Of course, safety is our number one concern before letting people into areas.”
Marshall outlined a list of the open portions of the park, as well as what areas remain closed off to visitors.
“Areas that have already been reopened include Bertha Falls, Bertha Lake, Crandell Lake Loop, Horseshoe Basin, and Lakeshore trails. The portion of the Red Rock Parkway that’s open to non-motorized use, including biking and hiking, has been extended from Bellevue Trailhead to Coppermine Creek.”
The Entrance Road and adjacent facilities, townsite, Waterton lakes and Chief Mountain Highway are also open.
As far as what’s closed?
“Crandell Mountain Campground, Bear’s Hump Trail, Akamina Parkway, Cameron Lake Day-Use Area, Red Rock Parkway from Coppermine Creek to Red Rock Canyon, and any recreational opportunities associated with these areas remain closed,” Marshall added.
Thankfully, for Marshall and co., a lot of the new areas that parks staff had been working on survived the fire due to sprinklers that were installed.
“For example, the Cameron Lake Day-Use Area still exists, it’s just the roadway to get there has been affected by the fire and that’s why that area remains on the closed list,” Marshall said.
There was good news for a lot of businesses in town too.
“The majority of businesses didn’t suffer any damage, however, unfortunately, there were some that did, but the townsite area and the Prince of Wales hotel were not among those,” Marshall stated.
The other aspect heavily affected by the fire is the wildlife in the area, and Marshall says since re-opening they are seeing lots of it.
“You can imagine that some of the places that are popular for people are also very popular with wildlife, especially given the fact that those areas are the ones that were least affected by the fire. We’re asking people to be extra cautious for their own safety, and to give the wildlife space including bears just to make sure they have to the room to forage and aren’t disturbed,” Marshall said adding things can be a little tough for them on a dry hot year especially after a wildfire.
Anyone looking to make a plan for a trip to Waterton Lakes National Park can find additional information here.
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