Banff GranFondo cycling event braces for more bears, wolves along route

The Banff GranFondo cycling event is preparing for much as 16 times the wildlife as usual along the route on Saturday, with a wolf warning in place and an already busy summer of bear activity in the park.

Organizers of 150-kilometre ride told to expect 16 times as much wildlife as usual

A swarm of cyclists along the Banff GranFondo route in 2013. This year's event expects higher than normal animal activity. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

The Banff GranFondo cycling event is preparing for much more wildlife than usual along the route, with a wolf warning in place and an already busy summer of bear activity throughout the national park.

Organizers of the 150-kilometre ride on Saturday say they have been told to expect 16 times as much wildlife activity as usual this year.

That's in part because of a bumper crop of berries that came out weeks earlier than usual, luring bears into valley bottoms where the people are.

There have also been a record number of people out on some mountain trails, increasing the chance of bear-human encounters, spurring a number of trail closures and warnings, and contributing to some attacks.

Banff townsite and area have also been under wolf warnings, with the Bow Valley pack wandering into campsites and backyards, forcing authorities to kill an alpha female and a yearling in recent weeks.

Parks Canada has repeatedly had to warn people not to feed the wolves, either deliberately, or inadvertently by leaving out food and garbage.

Neil McKinnon with the Banff GranFondo said there are no plans to alter the 150-kilometre route, but noted wildlife could still force some changes on the day of the race.

"We have many contingencies to deal with bear, elk and even wolf activity," he said.

Motorbikes will drive out in front of the cyclists and send the message back to the racers about any animal warnings ahead. 

"Their flagging system is caution, proceed or stop," McKinnon said.

Banff GranFondo organizer Neil McKinnon calls this year's anticipated increased animal activity 'exciting' and has a warning system for cyclists. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

McKinnon said registrations were slow to start this year due to the economy, but the event is still a sell-out, with 1,500 riders taking part.

In 2012, some racers ran into a grizzly bear and cubs at Baker Creek on Highway 1A between Banff and Lake Louise and the race had to be re-routed.

Cycling enthusiast Trev Williams says a repeat of that would be frustrating.

"For some people it will be a relief and for some people it will be a big disappointment," he said. "Hopefully they can can come up with something, if they do have to re-route the course, something just as spectacular."