Concerns are being raised in Banff National Park about how increased tourism is expected to impact businesses, infrastructure and wildlife in the coming year.
Chuck’s Steakhouse is Banff Hospitality Collective’s 11th establishment in the townsite. It just opened this summer and has already been benefiting from an increase in foreign tourism motivated by a lower Canadian dollar.
“It has definitely created a more vibrant tourist market, definitely driven by Americans first and foremost,” the CEO of the collective Michael Mendelman said.
Next year, there’s another bonus expected for Banff businesses. In 2017 entrance will be free to all national parks to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday.
“It’s going to encourage our regional market to visit the park more than they otherwise would,” Mendelman said.
But many have major concerns about the already mounting congestion in Banff, especially in the summer months.
The mayor has expressed concern about how the town is going to handle the increased traffic along with the pressure on parking and infrastructure.
Conservationists, meanwhile, worry wildlife and fragile ecosystems will be impacted the most.
“Campgrounds are full. You start camping in the worst places, leaving garbage all over the place… and start creating trails where there shouldn’t be, fragmenting the habitat,” conservationist Marie-Eve Marchand said.
Since 2013, visitation to Banff National Park has increased by 24 per cent. Parks Canada said it’s ramping up its public awareness campaign and is working with the town to deal with congestion issues.
“We have a meeting with the town and there will be a number of meetings to get that sorted out,” Greg Danchuck with Parks Canada said.
Mendalman suggests continuing to collect fees and donating the income to a piece of infrastructure would have had a more lasting impact. But overall, he believes the waived fees will be beneficial.
“If it makes one person in Calgary come experience the park and everything that’s alluring – it may be a good thing.”
With files from Jayme Doll