Nova Scotia

Visitor numbers at Highlands National Park bouncing back

Parks Canada says visitor numbers are just seven per cent shy of pre-pandemic levels. Staff are hopeful the strong turnout will continue into the fall.

'We are really anticipating that consistent busyness to roll into a strong autumn season,' says superintendent

Hikers on the Skyline Trail in July 2020. (Brittany Wentzell/CBC)

Summer isn't over yet, but early numbers seem to indicate visitor numbers are nearly back to normal at Nova Scotia's Cape Breton Highlands National Park.

According to Parks Canada, around 133,000 people visited the park between May and July. That's just 11,000 people shy of 2019's numbers for the same period.

Kelly Deveaux, superintendent with the Highlands National Park, believes the park may be on its way to surpassing pre-pandemic numbers. 

"What we're seeing this year is we're just consistently busy. You know, there's not really peaks and valleys in comparison to weekends and weekdays," she said. "We are really anticipating that consistent busyness to roll into a strong autumn season."

This year's numbers are in sharp contrast to the past two years. In 2020 the park only saw 40,000 visitors the entire summer and from May to July in 2021, the park had 62,305 visitors.

There has been so much traffic to the highlands that staff had to temporarily close the park's most popular trail, Skyline, twice. Both its regular and overflow parking lot were completely full.

"Once the parking lot fills up and then visitors start to park in undesignated areas, and once one car parks, many follow suit. We find ourselves in a situation where emergency vehicles would not be able to access the trailhead," said Deveaux.

"It's usually closed for a couple of hours until that congestion clears up before we reopen."

The view along the Franey Mountain trail, one of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park's popular trails. (Brittany Wentzell/CBC)

Deveaux said other popular trails have had some parking and traffic issues because of the increase as well. She encourages visitors to stop at the park's visitor information centres before hiking to check on the situation and to try some lesser known trails like the Acadian Trail, which overlooks the Chéticamp River Valley, and the Mica Hill Trail, which offers views of the Aspy fault line. 

The park's new campground, Terrain de Camping Cap-Rouge/Mkwesaqtuk Campground, has also been seeing plenty of visitors. 

"It's just so great to see people back in the national park, on the trail, on the beaches, and camping, which we're seeing a resurgence in as well," said Deveaux.

Highlands National Park was hit hard by flooding last November. Although most areas were repaired this spring, a popular waterfall, Mary Ann Falls, remained inaccessible by vehicle due to the state of its road. 

Deveaux said repairs are underway now and it is expected the road to the falls will be open for the Labour Day weekend, weather permitting.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brittany Wentzell

Current Affairs Reporter/Editor

Brittany Wentzell is based in Sydney, N.S., as a reporter for Information Morning Cape Breton. She has covered a wide range of issues including education, forestry and municipal government. Story ideas? Send them to brittany.wentzell@cbc.ca

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