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National parks closing to visitors amid COVID-19 pandemic as Parks Canada says 'stay home'

Canada will close its national parks to visitors Wednesday amid the growing COVID-19 pandemic, the minister responsible for Parks Canada has announced.

Highways through parks will stay open, but parking and vehicle access will be restricted

A backcountry skier crosses a frozen Hector Lake in Banff National Park in this file photo. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Parks Canada is now telling all would-be visitors to 'cancel their plans as vehicle access for the purposes of visitor use will be suspended until further notice.' (Robson Fletcher/CBC)

Canada will close its national parks to visitors Wednesday amid the growing COVID-19 pandemic, the minister responsible for Parks Canada has announced.

"Anyone considering a visit to a Parks Canada location should cancel their trips," Environment and Climate Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said Tuesday in a video posted to social media.

Highways through the national parks will remain open but all parking facilities and associated services for visitors will be closed effective 12:01 a.m. Wednesday and remain closed until further notice.

"Commercial and through traffic is permitted on these corridors," Parks Canada said in a statement. "Please note that parking is not permitted on highways and roadways. We are asking all Canadians to respect these restrictions."

Wilkinson said the moves are necessary to combat the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

With favourable weather across much of the country over this past weekend, and many Canadians itching to get outside after being cooped up indoors due to social distancing, Wilkinson said many parks experienced a surge in traffic.

"We saw visitation rates soar," he said. "This, however, is an issue, as our trails and day-use areas were suddenly quite crowded. To be clear, this is unsafe."

Parks Canada had already closed visitor services last week, such as washrooms and day-use facilities. But Wilkinson said these new, expanded measures are now necessary to keep both visitors and staff safe.

"This means that all parking lots, vehicle services, trails, washrooms, day use facilities, showers, visitor centres, and all camping facilities, including oTENTiks, yurts and backcountry camping, are closed until further notice," Parks Canada now advises.

Exceptions to 'new normal'

"I know that this has been a particularly challenging time for many of us. This is certainly a time of transition as we adjust to this new normal," he said.

"With everyone working together we certainly can and will get through this, but it will take a monumental effort on everyone's behalf to ensure that we keep our communities safe."

The closures also apply to national historic sites and national marine conservation areas.

Traditional Indigenous activities within the national parks will continue, but all users are being asked to follow social distancing advice from public-health officials in their areas.

People who live within national parks will still be allowed to have vehicular access, but those with recreational properties "are strongly encouraged to stay home," Parks Canada said in its statement.

The federal agency says it will continue to deliver "critical" services within the national parks, including highway maintenance, snow removal, fire response, dam operations and avalanche forecasting and control.

About the Author

Robson Fletcher

Reporter / Editor

Robson Fletcher's work for CBC Calgary focuses on data, analysis and investigative journalism. He joined CBC in 2015 after spending the previous decade working as a reporter and editor at newspapers in Alberta, British Columbia and Manitoba.

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