Busy trailheads and COVID-19 fears prompt Canmore, Banff to ask travellers to stay away

During Saturday's daily update from the province, Alberta's deputy chief medical officer of health Dr. Marcia Johnson said heading out into the outdoors was a good strategy during quarantine, contingent on social distancing being maintained.

Tourist hotspots thank travellers for not visiting, as some head to the hills to ward off cabin fever

Joey Cowan's wife is a nurse and he showed his support by greeting traffic with this sign in Canmore during the COVID-19 outbreak. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Spring is in the air, and after more than a week of social distancing due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many Calgarians headed outside over the weekend for a breath.

There were cars lined up near Elbow Falls, and Nose Hill was dotted with dog walkers and families out and about. The river pathway system in Calgary was also bustling.

"I think we've got room to have our two arm's length distance and still enjoy the outdoors," Dr. Marcia Johnson said. "At this point in time. We haven't had any indication that we'd have to limit the activity outside."

Please maintain social distancing outside, asks Dr. Marcia Johnson

3 years ago
Duration 1:03
As Albertans head outside to enjoy spring and take a break from isolating from COVID-19, health officials say it is super important to remain two metres away from others.

But some residents in mountain towns like Canmore are feeling overwhelmed — they don't want their community to be everyone's playground.

Marnie Dansereau owns Communitea Cafe and has lived in Canmore for more than twenty years. She's closed her business for the time being, and said many around her have also ceased operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Which means there are fewer places for visitors to sit, eat and use the bathroom.

Marnie Dansereau is a longtime Canmore resident and business owner. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Over the weekend Dansereau watched groups of people squeeze by each other on the main street sidewalk.

"The message to stay home means staying within your backyard," Dansereau said. "It doesn't mean staying inside 24-7, but you know, this is our home and this is where gratefully we get to be outside."

Dansereau fears if people aren't careful soon the government will lock things down, and then no one will be free to roam outside or get fresh air. 

"It's not about alienating anyone and saying you can't come here," she said. "It's about being smart. And I don't think the smart choices were being made in town with packed sidewalks and packed trails and trail heads and capacity Nordic Centre with you know, no bathroom facilities."

At least one Nordic Centre user found a bathroom behind a bush while CBC's reporter was inadvertently present.

Canmore Mayor John Borrowman said in a Facebook post that it was not appropriate for visitors to stop in the town while it attempts to contain the COVID-19 outbreak. (Anis Heydari/CBC)

On Sunday, town Mayor John Borrowman addressed concerns. 

"I understand that people in the city are looking at this the sky and the weather thinking well, this is a perfect day to get out of our homes and take a drive through the mountains or maybe go for a little ski or something,"  he said. "I think that's healthy for them. But don't think that after your ski you should come down to the town of Canmore. We're we're not really open for business anymore."

Last week, Parks Canada closed all visitor services across the country, including historic sites, visitor services and marine conservation areas. That closure included Banff National Park, though Albertans can still access front country, backcountry and various green spaces. 

In response, the province also shut down winter camping in provincial parks. Plans to open up online reservations for group camping are still set to open March 24.

Elbow Falls saw traffic pack the side of the road Saturday afternoon, as crowds attempted to get outdoors and out of quarantine. CBC News went out to the parking lot on Sunday to find most people weren't using a largely empty parking lot, but instead parking along the road. (Name withheld by request)

On Sunday, cars lined the strip of Highway 66 by Elbow Falls and the Prairie Mountain trailhead. But the parking lot was almost empty.

It's a typical sight at the spot in summertime but during a pandemic it caused anxiety and anger online.

Bennett Moody and Megan Vanderzwaag planned to tackle Prairie Mountain. Moody said since the outdoors isn't closed and he was laid off temporarily in Calgary it was what he needed.

"Nature is my church," Moody said. "It's a great get some fresh air, keep some distance absolutely, stay home if you're sick, we're going to wash our hands after and not lick things." 

Doug Kelley said a hike is what he needs to get rid of the cabin fever he's feeling. He said it's tough to keep a distance at the grocery store, but at Elbow Falls he's not concerned. 

"There's lots of space here, it's not too difficult to maintain a couple metres distance from people," Kelley said. "I'm surprised how many people are out here but it is nice to see."

Calgary Emergency Management Agency chief Tom Sampson was thrilled with the pathway turnout. He tweeted photos to show what social distancing looks like outside. 

Banff Mayor Karen Sorensen spoke to local radio station Mountain FM. She said many services in Banff are closed, so it's not an ideal time to be visiting. The other concern is their medical services are at capacity in this outbreak, so they can't help any visitors who need help.

"We've kind of reached the point of saying, 'Thanks for not visiting,'" she said, admitting it's a strange request for a mountain resort town.

She would also like to see people stop having house parties and getting together in small areas in the mountain resort town.

Further complicating matters was a post that circulated social media over the weekend, claiming that there were zero confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Banff and Canmore, and urging Albertans to book condos via Airbnb.

Some residents are upset that accommodations are being advertised as coronavirus-free to entice tourists out to Alberta's mountain towns. (Submitted)

There are currently two confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Canmore area, according to the Alberta Health Services geospatial map.

With files from Joel Dryden


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