Cyclists asked to watch out for salamanders on Bow Valley Parkway

It’s usually bears on the minds of cyclists using the Bow Valley Parkway west of Banff, Alta., but Parks Canada staff are asking them to keep a look out for some much smaller wildlife this spring.

The tiny amphibians are trying to cross the road as cycling season begins

Long-toed salamanders cross the Bow Valley Parkway at this time of year, at the same time as a stretch of winding road opens to cyclists. Parks Canada is asking cyclists to keep a close eye on one stretch of the road to avoid squishing the creatures. (Parks Canada)

It's usually bears on the minds of cyclists using the Bow Valley Parkway west of Banff, Alta., but Parks Canada staff are asking them to keep a lookout for some much smaller wildlife this spring.

Tiny long-toed salamanders cross the road at this time of year to access breeding sites. The road is car-free for most of the summer and is a popular destination for cyclists.

Although the salamanders are nocturnal, they still sometimes attempt to cross the road during the day. The lizard-like amphibians are only four to nine centimetres long and are listed as a species of special concern in Alberta. 

"Because we have cyclists instead of cars now, the risk is quite a bit less — but nonetheless they are still trying to cross the road," said Dan Rafla, a human wildlife coexistence specialist for Banff National Park. "Some stragglers cross in the daylight."

Private vehicles aren't allowed on the Bow Valley Parkway west of Banff and plenty of cyclists are taking advantage. Cyclists get to rule the road for most of the summer, but cars will return during the peak of the tourist season, June 26 to Aug. 31. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Rafla says park staff put up signs to warn cyclists to watch out for the animals on the stretch of the parkway near Stunted Spruce Pond adjacent to the Sawback area.

"They're moving from their terrestrial habitat — in this case, it's uphill — and moving to ponds to breed and lay eggs, and in doing so they're crossing," said Rafla.

"It peaks over a few days but lasts a few weeks," he said. "When we're confident it's done, we'll pull those signs."

Rafla says the salamanders cross back across the road once their breeding season is over, but it happens over a much longer time period and not en masse.

Cyclists say they'll do whatever they can to keep the salamanders from ending up under their wheels.

"I've travelled the road over 1,000 times and I've seen salamanders on two occasions," said Tom Couture, who runs Banff Cycle, a bike rental and tour company.

"I think it's great that parks has identified something that might be an issue and I'll share that with users. They know they are sharing that road with the salamander, the bear, the fox, the wolf, and we're all getting along marvellously," said Couture.

Couture says having the parkway open to cyclists has been "magical."

Cyclists are asked to report any salamanders they see on the road to Banff Dispatch at 403-762-1470.