Elk Island National Park hoping to build on record year

More than half a million visitors flocked to Elk Island National Park east of Edmonton last year for the stunning vistas, the wildlife and the free admission offered as part of Canada 150 celebrations. Now park staff hope to keep the momentum going in the place where the bison roam.

Free admission for Canada 150 celebrations last year, now it's free admission for those under 17

Learn more about Elk Island National Park, east of Edmonton, from superintendent Dale Kirkland. 1:52

Dale Kirkland warms his hands over a camp fire at Elk Island National Park.

It may be cold outside but the superintendent at the park east of Edmonton wants the attendance hot streak to continue.

"Last year, Canada 150 was a big year," said Kirkland with a smile.

Visits to the park were up by 55 per cent compared to the year prior.
Elk Island National Park superintendent Dale Kirkland hoping to attract visitors to the park year round. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC)

"It was a great, busy, wonderful year for people to come and enjoy Elk Island," Kirkland declared.

This month the national park system began offering free admission to parks and historic sites for kids under 17. Kirkland said that 2018 promotion is a way to build on last year's success. 

There was an encouraging sign just this week when the park opened summer campsite reservations. On opening day,  the park received the same number of bookings as last year despite much fewer free admissions.

But Brennen Bunko is hoping to drive visitors to the park even in the dead of winter.

The Elk Island staffer is encouraging visitors to give snowshoeing, stargazing and cross-country skiing a try.
Brennen Bunko shows us some of the winter activities they have at Elk Island National Park, east of Edmonton. 1:55

"We've got winter camping for those who want to spend the night. We do have a large loop you can skate around some of the islands on Astotin Lake. We also have a cleared rink for shinny," said Bunko.
Shinny on Astotin Lake. one of the winter activitied at Elk Island National Park. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC)

While they're telling tourists to layer up before heading out to the park at this time of year, the bison are loving the recent cold snap.

After all, the largest land mammals in North America are already dressed for these conditions, according to Jonathan DeMoor, the park ecologist team leader.

"They're very impressive animals, and here at Elk Island you get the opportunity to see them occasionally really up close," said DeMoor.

You can see more from Elk Island National Park on Our Edmonton Saturday at 10 a.m., Sunday at noon and Monday at 11 a.m. on CBC TV.
Plains bison hanging around the handling facility at Elk Island National Park. (Cameron Johnson/Elk Island National Park)