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29 of Canada’s 48 national parks to reopen to day-use visitors June 1

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29 of Canada's 48 national parks to reopen to day-use visitors June 1

CALGARY –
More than half of Canada's national parks – including Banff in Alberta, Pacific Rim in British Columbia and Cape Breton Highlands in Nova Scotia – are due to reopen on June 1.

Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson says 29 of the 48 national parks will be open for day use and access to restrooms.

"It is an opportunity for people, especially those who live reasonably close to national parks, to be able to get out of nature in a way that allows physical distance," he told The Canadian Press.

All national parks, historic sites and marine conservation areas have been closed for weeks to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Wilkinson said parks like Banff, Jasper and Waterton in Alberta will open up daytime areas and trails for visitors.

In Banff, the city and many of its businesses are preparing to reopen on June 1.

"This has been devastating for our city, which depends only on tourism as our economy," said Mayor Karen Sorensen, adding that it is difficult to ask visitors to stay away.

"We wanted to make sure that we had protocols in place to make it safe, not only for our community, but also for visitors."

The city council on Monday decided to close two blocks from its often crowded main street, Banff Avenue, for vehicle traffic, in order to give more space to pedestrians.

"If … people need to queue 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 retail opportunities and there will still be space for the flow of pedestrians outdoors."

Banff is the busiest national park in the country, with around four million visitors a year.

Other national parks that reopen on June 1 include Riding Mountain in Manitoba and Grasslands in Saskatchewan.

Wilkinson said that some parks, including many in northern Canada, will remain closed to reduce travel to areas sensitive to the spread of COVID-19.

"There are also some parks that are co-managed with First Nations, such as Haida Gwaii, where the First Nation asked that the park not be reopened," he said.

The camp, he said, will still not be allowed in national parks until at least June 21.

"Camping will be something that many Canadians will see, as traveling abroad will be particularly challenging," said Wilkinson.

British Columbia Parks' website crashed shortly after opening summer reservations for provincial campsites on Monday, while Alberta Parks saw nearly 40,000 camping reservations on the first day of markdown offers.

Many provincial governments reopened the camp on June 1, but are only allowing their own residents to reserve points to prevent non-essential travel.

Wilkinson said Parks Canada will have protocols in place as soon as they allow camping, but the agency does not plan to impose restrictions by province.

"We are a national agency that belongs to all the people who live in this country," he said. "We will be telling people that they need to pay attention to the travel guidelines for their respective province or territory."

Some governments have restricted inbound and outbound travel, while others have asked people not to travel to their jurisdictions.

Wilkinson said there may be park-to-park restrictions.

"In some cases, we will open up more things because we think it is configured to accommodate physical distance," he said. "In others, where there are some extremely busy trails, they may not open them because we cannot allow safe use."

Other possibilities may include setting limits on how many people can visit at a time or closing parking lots in popular areas.

Wilkinson said he realizes that Canadians have been through a lot in the past few months.

"Many were very, very close to home," he said. “One of the main things for us is to try to give Canadians opportunities to go out in the summer to enjoy nature.

"It is part of what Canada is for most Canadians."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on May 27, 2020

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