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Alberta Parks overwhelmed by high demand for camping reservations

Alberta Parks' online reservation system crashed on Thursday due to high demand from outdoor enthusiasts after bookings opened for the first time since closing in March due to COVID-19.

Reservations for provincial campgrounds opened Thursday ahead of June 1 reopening

The Alberta Parks website crashed several times Thursday as avid campers tried to book campsites for the first time since March. (Michelle Bellefontaine/CBC)

Alberta Parks' online reservation system crashed on Thursday due to high demand from outdoor enthusiasts after bookings opened for the first time since closing in March due to COVID-19. 

Problems started right at 9 a.m. when reservations opened for southern Alberta parks. While some users reported long delays logging in, others couldn't get in at all. The site crashed several times despite reservations opening on a staggered schedule throughout the day. 

"I cannot even log into my account nor can I get through on the phone line," Angelina McKnee wrote on the Alberta Parks Facebook site. "The server is down and the call fails every time."

"Tried booking at Jarvis Lake exactly at 1 p.m.," Steve Der wrote. "By 1:05 p.m. all the sites were booked. "

Charlotte Barty said she was finally able to snag a campsite in William Switzer Provincial Park after trying all morning. She wasn't successful at reserving a spot in the Bow River or Bow Valley provincial parks when the Kananaskis area opened for reservations at 11 a.m.

"I just kept refreshing and trying to get back in," the Edmonton resident said in an interview with CBC News."It was just disappointing."

The high demand left the ministry's social media staff pleading with frustrated users for patience and understanding.

"Over the last year we brought on additional server capacity to enhance the website, however unprecedented numbers of Albertans tried to book this morning," Alberta Parks said.

Jess Sinclair, press secretary for Environment and Parks minister Jason Nixon, said more than 18,000 reservations had been processed by 1 p.m. There were 2,000 reservations in the system when bookings were suspended on March 17.

In total, 39,963 individual campsites and 2,513 backcountry campsites were booked Thursday, according to Alberta Parks. 

Provincial campgrounds will open for the season on June 1.

Reservations for southern Alberta campgrounds opened at 9 a.m., followed by Kananaskis campgrounds two hours later. Bookings for the central region were scheduled to start at 1 p.m., followed by the northern region at 3 p.m. 

To ensure campers maintain social distancing guidelines, Alberta Parks is booking campgrounds at 50 per cent capacity. Reservations were limited to Alberta residents.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that 38 national parks will reopen to day use on June 1. Campgrounds will remain closed until at least June 21. 

The announcement did not specify what parks will open, but people in Waterton, Banff, Jasper and Elk Island National Parks are getting ready. 

Jasper Mayor Richard Ireland says the town is not ready to receive visitors yet so he is asking people not to visit during the May long weekend. 

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