Parkway restriction becomes mandatory
Thursday, Feb 27, 2014 06:00 am
A small section of the Bow Valley Parkway will be legally off limits to people overnight from March 1 to June 25 in a bid to give wildlife like grizzly bears and wolves undisturbed space and security during critical springtime.
Parks Canada is implementing a mandatory seasonal travel restriction on a 17-km section on the eastern end of the 48-km parkway – almost 20 years after it was first recommended as part the two-year, $2 million Banff Bow Valley Study in 1997.
Officials say the parkway will be gated from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m., but all businesses and commercial accommodations remain open during the travel restriction, and are easily accessible by driving the Trans-Canada Highway and exiting at Castle Junction.
Dave McDonough, superintendent of Banff National Park, said the restriction is one component of an overall vision for the parkway, which includes protecting ecological integrity, and improving visitor experience and education.
“This section of the Bow Valley is the montane eco-region, which only represents three per cent of park. It’s very important to various species of wildlife in springtime when the remaining areas of the park are under snow,” he said.
opportunity for people to see wildlife and enjoy the park, and by putting in a seasonal overnight restriction, it helps ensure this area of the Bow Valley will continue to provide effective habitat for the very species that people are coming here to see.”
Each spring, elk, deer and bighorn sheep fatten up on the new greenery before giving birth to offspring, while wolves from the Bow Valley pack return to denning areas to raise new pups and bears venture down from snowy higher grounds in search of early season food.
During severe spring flooding in the region last June, which led to the temporary closure of the Bow Valley Parkway, the area was reported by Parks Canada staff to be a mecca of wildlife activity.
“We did observe during that period there was extensive use of the area by wildlife, so that was encouraging that wildlife will take advantage of this opportunity when travel is restricted,” said McDonough.
Parks Canada has pumped $4.2 million into the Bow Valley Parkway in the past three years to boost visitor experience there, including updated education exhibits and new washrooms at the tourist hotspot of Johnston Canyon.
As part of the travel restriction, a gate is being installed at the east end of the parkway that will close overnight, along with a sense of arrival structure made from logs and information kiosk and education panels. A welcoming structure will go at the west end near Lake Louise, too.
Parks will also continue with its Bear Guardian program, where roving interpreters manage active bear jams along the road and provide information to visitors about bears and how to view animals respectfully and safely.
“We also have quite an extensive communication package, using social media, the web, public information notices, and working with the public and stakeholders so that they can inform people of when the restriction is on and when it is not,” said McDonough.
The mandatory restriction is welcome by conservationists.
“This is some of the best news that has come out of Banff National Park in recent years. It’s been a long time coming,” said Jim Pissot, executive director of WildCanada Conservation Alliance.
“There have been so many recent decisions which, in my opinion, go against the fundamental purpose and character of the park. This is critical because while considering the full range of impacts on visitors and local businesses, Parks Canada did the right thing for wildlife.”
Pissot said the voluntary restriction, which has been in effect since 1998, was simply not working. “During the voluntary closure, we actually saw an increase in traffic,” he said.
The Association for Mountain Parks Protection and Enjoyment (AMPPE), a business and user lobby group, said Parks Canada has done a lot of work to improve the experience for visitors along the parkway, including the sense of arrival structures and more messaging.
“All those elements will be an enhancement of the Bow Valley Parkway as a premiere destination in Banff National Park,” said Monica Andreeff, AMPEE’s executive director.
“It really is just a small section so people will be able to access the rest of the parkway, and I think in the long-run once people get used to the mandatory closure, they will learn how to enjoy the parkway during the time that they can.”
AMPPE has been long been opposed to the seasonal closure, but Andreeff said the superintendent has made a decision and has the legal right to close or open any roads in the national park. “What was was achieved was a great compromise that enhances visitor experience and protects the environment during the key spring time period,” she said.