Parks Canada adapts on P.E.I. to safely welcome visitors for the summer season
P.E.I. National Park is popular beach destination in the Maritimes
Usually by the summer months, P.E.I. National Park on the Island's North Shore is a very, very busy place.
The park stretches 40 kilometres from Cavendish to Dalvay, with breaks in the coast where bodies of water divide the shoreline. It also includes six kilometres along the Greenwich peninsula.
This year, under pandemic conditions and with only the neighbouring Atlantic provinces able to visit, things are a little different.
"Very quickly we realized that we were going to have to make some changes and things were going to look a little bit different," said Tara McNally-MacPhee, visitor experience manager for P.E.I. National Park.
"We've been down a roller-coaster ride. We've had our ups, we've had our downs and finally, when we were able to open some of our facilities and welcome visitors back it started to feel more like the P.E.I. national parks we're used to."
Preparations and planning took place in the early spring, trying to sort out how to welcome visitors in a safe manner with rapidly evolving public health guidelines.
Around the park sites
Most of the park areas opened up later in the season, starting in July.
There were a few exceptions where visitors could not safely pass or might bump into someone due to short sightlines. Those areas were blocked off for public safety.
There are also new signs all around the park areas. Some remind visitors to physically distance and others have turned some areas into one-way paths to help ensure people have space when travelling through.
Boardwalks leading down beach areas have been painted with a yellow line to encourage people to keep to the right side as they travel to and from the busy beach area.
On the beach
"We know that the beaches aren't a problem. They're vast. They're beautiful and so there's lots of room to spread out on the beach," said McNally-MacPhee.
"But the shared facilities for us was a pinch point and really trying to make that safe, that was where we really had to put a lot of time and energy."
Parks Canada has reduced the number of beaches that will have surf guards, down from the normal seven each year, to four — Cavendish main beach, Brackley beach, Stanhope main beach and Greenwich.
There will still be mobility mats at Cavendish, Brackley and Stanhope to help people get down to the harder beach sand.
A free program that allows visitors to borrow a variety of beach wheelchairs will continue, but they will no longer be sitting on the beach ready for first-come first-served.
People who are looking to take advantage of the mobility devices must reserve them at least 24 hours in advance.
"We got a lot of feedback on that from our visitors who were quite passionate and it's something we're passionate about too," said McNally-MacPhee.
"So we put our heads together again and said like really, can we make this happen, and so it's a reduced offer but it's still possible."
There are also fewer washroom services available because of limitations around physical distancing.
Some washroom stalls and sinks are closed and people are asked to be patient while waiting for the limited spaces, but porta-potties have been placed around outside for those who wanted that option.
The washroom spaces are cleaned every two hours.
Showers and change rooms will remain closed for the rest of the season.
Stanhope campground has opened with limited services and sites on offer — around 40 per cent of the usual spaces available.
They will not be accepting any walk-in campers — people must have a reservation if they want to stay the night.
The Otentiks also opened to limited availability but were pre-booked since January.
The campsite at Cavendish will remain closed for the entire season. Crews are still rehabilitating the site after all the damage caused by post-tropical storm Dorian in September 2019.
People are encouraged to bring all their own hygiene supplies and remain self-sufficient, limiting the need to use shared spaces like kitchen shelters.
As with many things this year, McNally-MacPhee said they are keeping up to date with changes in public health guidelines, and Parks Canada will continue adapting, she said.
McNally-MacPhee acknowledged visitors who have been understanding, patient and kind to the front-line staff as decisions are being made quickly behind the scenes.
"They're not made lightly. They're made with all kinds of considerations in place and we really are doing the best for the best interest of our visitors and our staff," she said.
"So those folks on the front line who are implementing those decisions are working really hard and I want to thank our visitors who have been so kind and patient with them."
McNally-MacPhee said the best way to find out about current changes, adaptations, closings and openings is to check the Parks Canada website.