Jasper National Park welcomes visitors for the first time since March

The park initially closed its gates on March 25 due to COVID-19, and officials have been asking people to stay away.

‘We’re really excited to ask Albertans to venture again to Jasper’

Jasper National Park reopened to visitors on June 1. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC)

After months of empty streets and quiet businesses, Jasper National Park and the townsite opened back up to visitors on Monday.

The park initially closed its gates on March 25 due to COVID-19, and officials have been asking people to stay away. 

"Everyone has refocused on opening and is looking forward to first welcoming Albertans, and then Canadians when it's appropriate to do so," said James Jackson, president and CEO of Tourism Jasper. 

To mark the reopening, Tourism Jasper has launched a new campaign called "Venture Again." It's a reminder for Albertans that the park and town are great places to visit, even as the pandemic stretches on.

Although camping won't be available until June 22 at the earliest, the majority of hotels, restaurants, and shops have reopened to the public, including Jasper Park Lodge and the Jasper Skytram. 

"Starting June 1, visitors will be permitted to access some trails, day use areas, and green spaces at some locations," said an update on the Jasper National Park website. Full details on what is open and closed are available on the park's COVID-19 webpage

Jackson said that the town is used to being at 90 per cent capacity or more during the summers, but over the past three months has been hovering around five per cent or less. 

"It's been extremely challenging, our entire business economy is built on people coming to Jasper," Jackson told CBC Edmonton's Radio Active on Monday

Jackson expects the worst is yet to come, with projections for low visitation throughout the summer and businesses that have already taken on a "huge volume of debt." 

Part of the worry is how the loss of international visitors has affected the local economy. 

It's a "tough pill to swallow," Jackson said. 

Despite the concern for the future, residents and the business community are eager to get back to some semblance of normalcy. 

Jackson encouraged visitors to come to Jasper prepared with masks, hand sanitizer, and patience for the new protocols in place. 

"We've all endured a lot," he said. "Moving forward, preparation and respect will help everything."