Jasper getting 'major facelift' with campground upgrade, diseased tree removal

A "major facelift" for Whistlers Campground, a new bypass lane at the east park gates, and removal of dead or dying trees due to a mountain pine beetle infestation are three major projects underway at Jasper National Park.

National park also gets new bypass lane at East Gate

The East Gate at Jasper National Park has been reconfigured to include a new bypass lane for through traffic. (CBC)

A "major facelift" for Whistlers Campground, a new bypass lane at the east park gates, and removal of dead or dying trees due to a mountain pine beetle infestation are three major projects underway in Jasper National Park.

Details of the three projects were discussed Monday as part of a tour for reporters led by Steve Young, communications officer for the park.

Whistlers Campground, built in the 1960s, is closed until May 2020 as it undergoes work that will carry it through the next 60 years, Young said.

"One of the reasons we're shutting this down is to do it once, do it right and minimize the impact year over year," he said. "Nobody wants to camp beside a construction site."

With 781 sites, Whistlers is described as North America's largest single-entry campground. Those sites are used by up to 3,200 people a day, and make up a huge portion of Jasper's campsite inventory, Young said.

Park staff have prepared for the temporary loss of camping space.

Whistlers Campground in Jasper National Park will be closed for 2019 as it undergoes a "major facelift", park officials say. (CBC)

An overflow campground will be made available to the public, opening up an additional 240 sites.

Park staff have kept travel retailers informed about the project, so international tourists are aware of decreased site availability, Young said.

Local businesses have also been kept up to date about construction, as the closure of the site could reduce the number of people visiting and spending money in the park.

"Most of them understand that doing this all at once is actually part of our efforts to mitigate the impact and keep it confined to one year," Young said.

Once the $30-million project is complete, the campground will have widened roads and two new entry sites, while campers will have better access to bathrooms and showers, he said.

As well, about 50 per cent of the trees at the campground will be removed.

The tree removal is part of an effort to deal with dead and dying lodgepole pines infested by the mountain pine beetle.

Removing dead, diseased trees

About 60 hectares of the 100-hectare campground will have trees removed, said Dave Argument, a resource conservation manager at the park.

Trees at Whistlers Campground that are diseased or dead due to an infestation of Mountain Pine Beetle have been marked for removal. (CBC)

"The construction project in Whistlers here is a good opportunity to get in at the same time and actually remove the dead and dying pine trees to reduce the fire risk," Argument said, noting those trees could also fall on campers.

"Just about every site at Whistlers right now has a standing lodgepole pine nearby that has fallen prey to the pine beetle."

In addition to pine trees, some dead aspens and spruce trees susceptible to falling will be removed, he said. They'll be replaced with seedlings once construction is over.

"Wherever possible, we're leaving the mature trees to retain some of that sense of being in nature," Argument said.

Resource conservation manager Dave Argument says the dead trees are a safety hazard. (CBC)

The park is covered with large swaths of the red, diseased trees, but not all of them will be removed.

"Obviously we can't remove all that wood," Argument said. "We're focusing on public safety and protecting the townsite as a first priority, and other important assets and congregation points where people spend their time."

Between 300 to 500 hectares of trees will also be removed in an area called Pyramid Bench, on a mountain just west of the Jasper townsite, Young said. The first trees were cut down this week.

Red, diseased trees at Pyramid Bench, west of Jasper townsite, are being removed, said park officials. (Rick Bremness/CBC)

The removal is being done by Canfor, a forest products company, and is expected to wrap up in the spring.

New bypass lane

A third project Young said many visitors and travellers along the Yellowhead Highway have been asking for is a reconfiguration of the East Gate.

Work is almost finished at the gate, which has been expanded from two lanes to four, and includes a bypass lane for through traffic, Young said.

The gate will also have an overhead sign that features lane directions, fire ban updates, wildlife messaging and information about campsite availability.