Solution to Congestion in Banff Proving Successful

BY CATHY ELLIS 

BANFF – The soaring popularity of Banff National Park has reignited a decades-old debate over limits to the number of people at certain iconic tourist hot spots like Moraine Lake and Lake Louise.

Some conservationists are calling on Parks Canada to set limits on the number of people, saying growing crowds and congestion are not only threatening the delicate ecosystem of Canada’s flagship national park, but ruining the experience for visitors.

Tourism officials, on the other hand, say Banff National Park is a ‘bucket list’ destination for tourists, noting visitation is being managed effectively and strict rules and programs are in place to protect the park’s ecological integrity and its wildlife.

Parks Canada officials agree certain areas in the park such as Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, Johnston Canyon and Lake Minnewanka are extremely busy, but say quotas aren’t under consideration at this time.

Instead, they say they’ve stepped up communications to encourage use of an expanded pubic transit system and to urge people to visit at quieter times of the year and to choose less popular national parks like Yoho and Kootenay.

“We’re not looking at quotas right now,” said Greg Danchuk, Parks Canada’s manager of visitor services for Banff National Park. “We are doing a number of other things.”

In 2017-18, about 4.2 million people visited Banff, an increase of about 28 per cent from 3.3 million five years ago. There’s a slight decrease so far this year compared to last year when passes to the park were free.

Other jurisdictions all over the world are grappling with similar issues, including Montana’s Glacier National Park and other iconic parks such as Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Yosemite.

Conservation groups, including the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), say quotas on people for special areas, including protected areas, are not uncommon in global tourism.

Peter Zimmerman, parks program supervisor for CPAWS, said crowding, traffic, increasing human-wildlife conflict and illegal camping have become major problems.

Two summers ago, two wolves were killed after getting human food and garbage.

“Banff is bursting at the seams with both cars and people,” he said. “Annual visitation has been edging up continuously for years, but the last five years have seen it explode.”

Iconic Canadian destinations like Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, where there is standing room only on the shores during the busy summer season, are often nothing more than mere backdrops for Facebook ‘selfies’.

Zimmerman said there is no magic bullet to fix this, but the greatest effect will be made by getting people out of their cars, which will require a cultural shift whereby people willingly accept they simply can’t drive everywhere in the park they wish to go.

“Perhaps it’s time some of these options became non-negotiable,” he said.

“Rather than encouraging people to use the optional shuttle to Lake Louise, why not make it mandatory for the busy months of July and August? If you want to go to Lake Louise for the day, you take the shuttle. Period.”

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