Campground, bike park out of commission a year after the Fort McMurray wildfire

The opening of northern Alberta’s busiest provincial park has been delayed almost another year after it was damaged in the 2016’s Fort McMurray wildfire.

‘The wildfire had significant impact on various elements of the park’

Cyclists ride through Silin Forest Road bike park, which was closed in July so the municipality can assess wildfire damage. (Tammy Slauenwhite/ Submitted)

The reopening of one of northern Alberta's busiest provincial parks has been delayed almost a year, as work continues to repair damage from the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire.

Gregoire Lake Provincial Park remains closed and is not expected to reopen until spring 2018, said Alberta Parks public affairs officer Tim Chamberlin.

The park, located off Highway 63 between Fort McMurray and Lac La Biche, was supposed to reopen over the July long weekend. A popular campsite among locals and visitors, it saw about 1,800 camp bookings in 2015.

Chamberlin said the park is undergoing a $9.5-million renovation to remove dangerous trees and replace infrastructure.

"The wildfire had significant impact on various elements of the park," Chamberlin said. "It did enter the park and do some significant damage."

By the time it reopens, the park will add new picnic tables and fire rings, more campsites and parking spaces, and new showers and concession stands. Access roads will be widened and the day use area will be expanded.  

Gregoire Lake Provincial Park remains closed and is not expected to reopen until the spring of 2018. (Alberta Parks)

Chamberlin said work crews have experienced higher than usual rainfall, unlike the previous year, which was arid and tinder dry.

Wildfire closes bike park

The wildfire has also closed another option for outdoor recreation in the region. In July, more than a year after the wildfire, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo closed the Silin Forest Road bike park.

Self-described mountain bike addict Tammy Slauenwhite can't understand why the whole park is closed when only some sections burned.

"To be honest, we are quite confused," Slauenwhite said. "Because it wasn't closed after the wildfire, and many of us have been riding it." 

In an email, municipal spokesperson Jordan Redshaw said: "The extent of the damages to the park is vast."

Redshaw said that full extent of the damage wasn't apparent until a year after the wildfire.

"Trees can store energy and remain green for some time, even when the root systems have been completely destroyed from ground burn," Redshaw said. "Now that the trees have exhausted their internal energy and have been exposed to the elements, there are more signs of  tree loss."

Silin Forest Road bike park is off limits because of the damage caused by the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire. (Tammy Slauenwhite/ Submitted)

The municipality will conduct an assessment of the damage and decide what work is needed, but can't say when repairs will be completed.

Slauenwhite said many riders have no other alternative for mountain biking in Fort McMurray.

"I only hope there's an assessment done and something positive comes out of this, because it is upsetting," she said. "We're hoping the assessment is fast."

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