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March 22, 2017 – The Crag and Canyon. Story by Daniel Katz.

Town of Banff officials met with Federal Minister of the Environment Catherine McKenna two weeks ago to discuss vehicular congestion management in the townsite with a focus on how vehicles will impact both the town and the national park in 2017.

With the implementation of free national park passes for 2017 and large domestic and international marketing campaigns touting the beauty of Banff, there are fears that this summer will be one of the busiest on record in the town.

The meeting two weeks ago was an opportunity for Parks Canada and the Town of Banff to update the minister on the steps that have been taken for 2017, and Banff Mayor Karen Sorensen said it opened the discussion for the possibility of mass transit between Banff and Lake Louise heading into 2018 and beyond.

“I’m optimistic that the minister and her staff and our local Parks people understand that creating mass transit within the park is going to be a benefit to our visitors, to our residents and to the environment,” said Sorensen. “We are hoping that we’re going to be able to start transit between Banff and Lake Louise, and for Lake Louise’s benefit carried into the village of Lake Louise, moving forward in 2018 and 2019 with Roam Transit.”

Minister McKenna’s office could not be reached for comment.

In the fourth quarter of 2016, feelings of frustration and anxiety were expressed by Banff council over the seemingly apathetic response from Parks Canada to deal with potential problems the town might face with regards to vehicle congestion. Sorensen and McKenna met in Calgary in November, and communications between the town and Parks Canada ramped up since that time.

To help address parking and vehicle congestion concerns, Roam Transit will begin offering bus service to locations along the Lake Minnewanka loop from May until September, and Parks Canada will increase its free shuttle service from the overflow parking lot on the Trans-Canada Highway to Upper Lake Louise seven days a week during the summer.

Banff estimates the summer Lake Minnewanka bus service could see 50,000 riders, which would take roughly 22,000 vehicles off the road.

Banff is also exploring the feasibility of reinstituting heavy rail passenger service between the Bow Valley and Calgary within the existing rail right-of-way.

Sorensen said that town officials told the minister of the need for reinstituting passenger rail transit from Calgary could be another opportunity for visitors to see the mountains, and acknowledged that Canadian Pacific would need to be a player in the discussions.

“It all stems back to needing to move away from private vehicles, and we’re making large strides with transit, and we just feel rail could be another big opportunity for that,” she said. “It’s just a dream. It’s not a reality at this point, and so we’re trying to at least keep that conversation open.”

During a recent speech given in Banff, Minister McKenna stated that four million Parks Canada Discovery Passes, which provide free admission to national parks for 2017, have been distributed so far this year.

Last year, nearly four million people visited Banff National Park.

Sorensen emphasized that her discussions with the minister revolved around concerns with vehicular congestion, not visitation numbers.

“I don’t believe that Banff National Park is too full of people,” she said. “I do believe that we have a vehicular problem … I’m still of the opinion that you can walk a few hundred feet off the beaten track and be completely alone in Banff National Park.”

Sorensen said town administration will continue to keep Parks Canada regularly updated with Banff’s traffic data and have conversations about how best to move people around the park without the use of personal vehicles.

Sorensen and McKenna have another meeting planned to take place in Ottawa in June.

Original article sourced here.

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