Free shuttle between Edmonton and Elk Island National Park begins this month

Elk Island National Park on Monday, July 9, 2018. Global News

A free shuttle will soon be available for people looking to head out to Elk Island National Park for the day from Edmonton.

The free bus service will start on July 28 and run every Saturday until Sept. 15. The pilot project will offer day trips from the Mountain Equipment Co-op location in downtown Edmonton to the national park, which is located about 50 kilometres east of the city.

“We wanted to improve accessibility to the outdoors and make sure that not only those that have vehicles can access and enjoy the parks that we have across the country,” said Alex Berlyand, co-founder of Ontario-based Parkbus.

Berlyand, along with fellow co-founder Boris Issaev, launched the service in Toronto in 2010. Since then, the company has expanded to offer people both paid and free trips to parks from Montreal, Vancouver and now, Edmonton.

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“We realized that the potential is much bigger and more and more people could enjoy a service like this in other parts of the country,” Berlyand said.

“We wanted to take this model to a nation-wide scale… we realized that Edmonton would have great potential to try out for the first time,” he continued. “Elk Island National Park is kind of the ideal scenario in terms of its proximity to Edmonton and kind of a perfect destination that people can go for the day — do some hiking, do some picnicking, enjoy time in nature — and still be able to return back to the city in the evening.”

The company partners with Parks Canada, Mountain Equipment Co-op and TD Bank to offer the free rides.

Berlyand and Issaev were both immigrants to Canada and said accessing the great amenities this country has to offer wasn’t always easy. Berlyand said being able to explore the great outdoors “truly speaks to the Canadian identity.”

“We wanted to explore the outdoors in Canada — it’s something that is very appealing — and we have so many parks, but we realized from our own personal experiences that getting to these places can be quite challenging,” he explained.

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“Often when I was younger, I had to hitchhike to get to some of these destinations and I just saw the amazing nature and the amazing park system that is available to us all here, and it was kind of surprising to both of us that there aren’t any public transportation options to people who don’t have access to a car.”

Park ambassadors are present on all trips, to give people a rundown of things to do in the park, which hikes to take and general best practices on how to keep the parks clean and untouched.

The shuttle leaves MEC in downtown Edmonton at 8:30 a.m. on Saturdays and leaves the park to head back to the city at 3:30 p.m.

For more information on the service, or to reserve a seat, head to the Parkbus website.

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