Bow Valley Parkway closure an opportunity to study human use of parks: CPAWS

The southern Alberta chapter of the Canada Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) has launched a survey to see how park users feel about the Bow Valley Parkway closure in Banff.

To help with crowding during the pandemic, Parks Canada opted to shut down the 1A Highway — a popular and scenic route that provides access to popular trails like Johnston Canyon. 

With vehicles blocked from using the popular stretch, bikes and other users took over. The closure also gave wildlife a break from traffic noise.

Sarah Elmeligi serves as the national parks program co-ordinator for CPAWS. She says the group sees the Highway 1A closure as an opportunity to learn more about how the road closure affected visitor experience because it could help Parks Canada implement people-managing changes in the future.

Until further notice, motor vehicles aren’t allowed on the Bow Valley Parkway and Tunnel Mountain Drive in Banff. 0:50

“Visitation has dramatically increased across all of the Rocky Mountain national parks in the last 10 years,” Elmeligi said. “We really would like to see Parks Canada implementing more strategic landscape-scale efforts to manage visitation in a way that provides for a positive visitor experience, but also make sure that we’re not loving our parks to death.”

In the fall, Elmeligi said, Parks Canada will resume stakeholder consultations on a new Banff National Park management plan. CPAWS wants Parks Canada to create a visitor use strategy — which it believes would help optimize parks as a place for wildlife conservation and a destination for people.

Cyclists have been flocking to the Bow Valley Parkway as the popular road has been temporarily closed to motorists to make way for physical distancing during the pandemic. (Helen Pike/CBC)

One of the biggest issues, Elmeligi said, is that Parks Canada diligently collects and tracks data about animals like bears and wolves, as well as water and plants.

But when it comes to people and how they are using the park, Elmeligi said that information falls short. 

“There’s a lack of human use data, a lack of social science, really, truly understanding what visitor expectations, motivations and satisfaction might be,” Elmeligi said. “The survey that we’re doing is an effort to try to get the ball rolling a little bit on gathering more social science data about visitors that we can use to inform the management planning process.”

Elmeligi said the survey is for those who used the road, but also for those who were turned away in cars or motorcycles. 

Parks to re-evaluate road closure

In a statement, a spokesperson said Parks Canada has not collected data during the closure. 

“Since the reopening of some services on June 1, there has been steady pedal traffic starting at the east entrance of the parkway,” David Dunbar said. “Feedback from the public on the restriction has been positive. Parks Canada welcomes feedback and visitor perspectives on all visitor attractions.”

The road is still closed.

Dunbar said Parks Canada will re-evaluate vehicular traffic on the 1A Highway after the Thanksgiving weekend. 

“Public safety is of the utmost importance to the agency in determining if and when Parks Canada places and activities should resume or reopen, and this will only be done where and when it is safe to do so,” Dunbar said. 

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