How a free year helped put Parks Canada 'on the map'

After a free year to celebrate Canada's 150th birthday, Parks Canada in P.E.I. was surprised visitor numbers were even higher this summer.

'We just had a phenomenal summer'

Visitors crossing the road at P.E.I. National Park. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

After a year when no one had to pay it was a fair assumption that Parks Canada would see a decrease in traffic at the P.E.I. National Park for 2018, but a hot, beautiful summer pushed the numbers even higher.

Parks Canada saw an 11 per cent increase in visitor numbers this summer compared to last year. 

"We had all kinds of visitors come from around the world," said Tara McNally MacPhee, the manager of visitor experience for the P.E.I. National Park. 

Full parking lots and busy beaches were the norm this year at P.E.I. National Park. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

"We didn't expect it was going to be like the free year at all." 

McNally MacPhee believes weather played a big part in the jump in visitors. 

'Phenomenal summer'

Parks Canada says data about how many people visit is gathered from computerized traffic counters embedded in the roads near the gates.  Last year for July and August there were 375,840 person visits versus 398,939 this year. 

Tara McNally MacPhee, visitor experience manager, said the beach weather was tremendous, and 'it was just busier everywhere.' (Laura Meader/CBC)

"We just had a phenomenal summer," McNally MacPhee said.

She said campgrounds were regularly full and visitors sometimes had to be redirected to other sites because parking lots and beaches were full. 

"I think 2017 helped to put Parks Canada on the map," she said. 

Infrastructure improvements helped

Parks Canada has been undergoing some major infrastructure improvements in the last few years. 

Federal dollars were invested into everything from campgrounds, roads, trails and day-use areas, to new cabins. 

Tara McNally MacPhee speaks to visitors from Quebec about the their trip to P.E.I. (Laura Meader/CBC)

McNally MacPhee believes those site improvements are also helping boost numbers. 

"I think that certainly helps influence the return," said McNally MacPhee. 

Beautiful weather is being credited for the great year. Park Canada says the water is still warm and people are still swimming in September. (Laura Meader/CBC)

She said extra revenue gathered from the increased visitors will help pay for further improvements to P.E.I National Park. 

Green Gables down

Green Gables saw about a 20 per cent drop in visitors from last summer. Officials say the site is generally more popular on cloudier days and there weren't many overcast days. 

"We know those hot, sunny days visitors are looking to be at the beach," said Ocel Dauphinais-Matheson, national historic sites manager. 

Green Gables is also under construction as a new visitor centre is being built. 

"I think construction always impacts visitation," Dauphinais-Matheson said. 

Greenwich popular

Greenwich was a site Parks Canada was trying to promote more, to spread out visitors. 

McNally MacPhee said visitor numbers were strong in Greenwich in 2017 and 2018. 

Parks Canada says numerous improvements to trails, board walks, and other sites are helping bring more visitors in. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

She said improvements to the boardwalk there also helped bring people in. 

"People fell in love with the site," said McNally MacPhee. 

Number strong as weather holds

The good weather is continuing into September so Parks Canada says numbers are still strong. 

"It's very beautiful," said Michel Varin who is visiting from Quebec. 

Parks Canada says with the continued good weather they are still busy in September. (Laura Meader/CBC)

"Parks Canada is a good place to visit, it's the same for us in Quebec,"  he said. 

"There are still folks that are swimming, it's just been a beautiful month so far," said McNally MacPhee. 

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