Banff National Park saw increased traffic in 2017 thanks to free parks pass

January 3, 2018. The Crag and Canyon. Story by Chris Nelson. 

The popular year-long program allowing visitors to enter Banff National Park for free has earned more than just a passing grade.

The free parks pass initiative, which was put in place across Canada as part of the nation’s 150th birthday celebrations in 2017, is being hailed as a huge success.

Initial worries that the free entry promotion would result in massive overcrowding — with resulting damage to both the natural habitat and wildlife — proved groundless thanks to a carefully planned focus on urging visitors to use public transit much more than in previous years, said Banff National Park’s visitor experience manager, Greg Danchuk.

Hiking in Banff National Park. Photo Credit Parks Canada.

From April 1 until the end of November there was a 3.7 per cent increase in traffic, resulting in 110,000 more people coming through the gates than during the same period last year. This pushed the total for those eight months to a record-setting 3.1 million visits.

“We feel 2017 was a great success here in Banff National Park,” said Danchuk.

Although final numbers have not been tallied, Danchuk said the free pass program is believed to have resulted in about a 10 per cent spike in the number of visitors to National Parks and historic sites across Canada.

“The raised awareness and the increased visitation is a tremendous thing. It allowed more Canadians to be able to connect with these wonderful places that are actually their places. Hopefully, these were exceptional experiences that occurred in 2017 and that this will keep them coming back to enjoy these places into the future,” he said.

In Banff National Park, most of the increased traffic was from day visits. During the most popular months of July and August, packed campgrounds and fully booked hotel accommodation in the townsite and nearby Lake Louise enforced a natural limit on visitors.

Danchuk said the message to those people coming on a day trip — most of them setting out from the Calgary area — was to consider using transit to get to the park, or arrive on weekdays and during off-peak hours. That strategy appears to have worked and will be expanded in coming years.

“There was a weekend transit service from Calgary that carried 11,000 people to the park during just 27 days of service — that’s a lot of cars not on the road,” he said.

Once people arrived, regular shuttle services provided a way to get around the Banff townsite or to travel to Lake Louise, again curbing passenger traffic on the highways.

“We feel that this is a move into the future. Public transit of various sorts allows people to move around quicker and helps with wildlife safety as well. Also, if people are riding a bus they get to see more than if they are driving. So you get to enjoy the place and it makes the roads less congested.”

“Right now, we are looking at future options but we learned a lot this year and that will help make this better in the future when it comes to moving people from Calgary to Banff,” added Danchuk.

Although the free park pass program endedDec. 31, Ottawa announced that starting Jan. 1, anyone 17 years old and younger will be allowed into Canada’s national parks without charge.

Original article sourced here.

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