Parks Canada says daytime visitor numbers are up for this time of year at Waterton Lakes National Park, but times are tough for the businesses open year-round in the townsite.
It’s been two months since the Kenow wildfire burned through the park, which was the start of a declining bottom line for some local businesses.
“The business hit in September was hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said Kevin Hicks, a general manager for Waymarker Hospitality.
Hicks oversees Waterton Lakes Lodge and Resort and other properties in town. He said the fall months are historically slow, but this year he’s seen a 30 per cent drop in business since the park reopened to the public on Sept. 20, despite more fall visitors than usual coming through the gates.
“It’s just day traffic,” Hicks said. “They come in, they look around, they leave.”
Parks Canada had reported record visitor numbers for Waterton prior to the Kenow fire, and the upward trend has continued since. This Thanksgiving long-weekend the park saw a nearly 70 per cent increase in traffic compared to last year.
“It was a bit of a surprise that we saw that many people come after the fire, but of course a lot of people were interested in seeing what the affects were,” Waterton visitor experience manager Locke Marshall said. “It’s an interesting natural process.”
While the townsite remains open, there are still other popular attractions that remain off limits.
“We’re doing safety assessments and we’re also assessing the infrastructure,” Parks Canada spokesperson John Stoesser said. “It is a process and we want to make sure we’re doing it right.”
Hicks remains optimistic business will come alive again once all the park’s trails are reopened. For now, he’s turned to creative marketing and says he’s selling the peaceful, winter wonderland he knows Waterton to be.
“We take what we can get, I guess.”