Bow Valley Parkway opens up for vehicles after being closed for months due to COVID-19

Cyclists have made the most of the Bow Valley Parkway being closed to private vehicles during the summer, but all of that will change this Sunday after Parks Canada announced the road is reopening to cars.

Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society notes positive feedback from the closure

Private vehicles will be allowed back on the Bow Valley Parkway on Nov.15. The road was blocked to cars to give pedestrians and cyclists enough space to enjoy Banff National Park while maintaining appropriate physical distancing during the pandemic. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Cyclists have made the most of the Bow Valley Parkway being closed to private vehicles during the summer, but all of that will change this Sunday after Parks Canada announced the road is reopening to cars.

The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) has been tracking people's opinions about the closure on Highway 1A — a popular and scenic route that provides access to popular trails and sites like Johnston Canyon. 

Sarah Elmeligi, who serves as the national parks program co-ordinator for CPAWS, told the Calgary Eyeopener she's been sorting through the feedback.

"COVID presented Parks Canada with this really unique opportunity to create a visitor experience that, frankly, probably would never have been on the table," she said.

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

"CPAWS is really interested in trying to get some sense of what visitors thought about this new recreational experience on the Bow Valley Parkway, and overall, we found that people loved it."

Elmeligi said in September that the survey, which had 3,120 respondents, was for those who used the road, but also for those who were turned away in cars or motorcycles.

"Close to 90 per cent of respondents were extremely satisfied with their recreational experience, and overall respondents were in strong agreement that their recreational experience was better because of the closure and that the closure should continue in some form beyond 2020," she said.

She says that despite the survey being a self-selected sample rather than random, it did show CPAWS that people who engaged in the parkway closure are interested in being involved in future conversations.

"Our overall objective for doing this was that we want to work with Parks Canada to create a visitor use management strategy for Banff National Park that is informed by data instead of assumption," she said.

CPAWS has yet to define its final recommendations on the road closure, but Elmeligi says either way, she hopes the feedback can inform future management.

"I think the success of the Bow Valley Parkway closure and the joy and fun that people have had this summer really demonstrates that people are open to a lot more creative management options than we had previously assumed," she said.

"I think that that's a very powerful sentiment."

She says the next step is to talk to stakeholders to create a long-term plan since businesses on the Bow Valley Parkway were directly impacted by the road closure.

"I think it's important to try these things and then take a step back and look at all the information and have a conversation and and be strategic about how we move forward," she said.

Parks Canada recently announced it was going to create an expert panel to advise on sustainable travel within Banff National Park.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.


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