'Crazy busy' year anticipated in Jasper with free park passes
'So far we are looking very busy,' said Shawnee Wilson, GM Best Western Jasper Inn & Suites
Parks Canada is gearing up for a busy year and so are the businesses that operate within national parks.
"I think it's going to be one of those summers where we're going to be crazy busy," said Shawnee Wilson, general manager, Best Western Jasper Inn and Suites.
The federal government is making entry into the national parks and historic sites free in 2017 as a way to mark the 150th anniversary of Canada's Confederation.
According to Parks Canada, more than 900,000 people ordered a free Discovery Pass online in the first two weeks after they became available in December.
As of Jan. 1, the passes are available at the national parks and sites.
So far we are looking very busy.- Shawnee Wilson, GM, Best Western Jasper Inn & Suites
"The signage everywhere has been redone and it's fantastic," said Wilson on Monday. "I can see ongoing things in the town, that everybody's preparing."
Over a year ago, Wilson ordered red and white tulips, that have already been planted in the ground in front of the Best Western, ready to sprout in the spring.
"We are stepping up our normal flower baskets that we put out all over the hotel, and they again will be red and white," she added.
The hotel is booked solid from May to September, which Wilson said is typical. They are a little busier than usual with summer bookings, but it's a bit early to determine the impact of the free park passes, she added.
"I would be able to give you a really good idea come the middle of July," Wilson said. "We'll be able to talk to the actual guests, and monitor, and do some statistics."
While Banff is ready to greet the expected rise in visitors, town officials are concerned about an increase in traffic.
Mayor Karen Sorenson hopes the additional influx will lead to a longer-term solution for vehicle congestion.
"We are at our road capacity when we have 24,000 vehicles coming in and out of Banff," she said.
"So our preference, of course, is to have fewer vehicles and have people be able to flow through the town more freely and without delays and of course the answer to that is to park the vehicles and have mass transit move people as opposed to vehicles."
Wildlife protection concerns
Wildlife protection agency CPAWS (Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society) is happy the government is making it easier to get out and enjoy Canada's national parks.
The group's concern is with making sure the extra visitors don't do lasting damage to the parks.
"When we poll people who visit our national parks, most people say that they go to the parks to experience wilderness and wildlife," said Alison Ronson, executive director of CPAWS' northern Alberta chapter.
"I think we should take a cue from that and make sure that we are doing our best to protect the wilderness and protect the wildlife, so that people can continue to enjoy them, and future generations can continue to enjoy that as well."
Ed Jager with Parks Canada said staff know they are in for a busy year.
The number of cleaning and maintenance crews has been increased to ensure facilities will be kept in shape and that garbage doesn't attract wildlife, he said.