July 18, 2018 5:30 pm
Updated: July 18, 2018 8:46 pm

Jasper’s biggest campground to close for major overhaul

WATCH ABOVE: It's by far the most popular campground in Jasper but as Sarah Kraus explains, Whistlers Campground is going to be closed for a while as it gets a facelift.

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Jasper National Park’s largest and most popular campground will not open to campers next year because it will be under construction.

Whistlers Campground was built in the 1960s, when RVs were relatively uncommon and much, much smaller. People also expected fewer amenities, explained Jasper National Park’s communications officer Steve Young.

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“Instead of the Band-Aid solutions or doing a little bit at a time, we’re going to close it for the year and do it right. All 781 campsites renovated.”

Starting this October, the campground will be completely redone. The plan is to reopen the campground in the spring of 2020. The renovations will feature new bathrooms, showers and a registration centre to help eliminate the long check-in lines.

READ MORE: Jasper bursting at the seams as businesses struggle to house employees

“The underground facilities will be improved as well, with both the water and the electricity. It will be a lot more reliable. We will also put in a recycling program,” Young said.

The Lemiere family from Montreal is travelling across Canada with their two young children. They say they came to Whistlers because of its beautiful location – not necessarily its services, but they are supportive of the improvements.

“That sounds amazing. A good plan actually. We can say that it’s a bit, well… not fresh,” father Roxan Lemiere laughed.

“It’s not the best restroom around.”

The new amphitheatre, officially opened in 2017 for interpretive programs, is one of the only aspects of the campground that will not be touched during construction.

Local businesses are not happy about the impact the closure will have on tourism. Whistlers boasts nearly 800 of the 1,800 campsites in the park.

“Closing such a large campground during our peak time is obviously never ideal, particularly as this destination continues to grow and grow,” Chamber of Commerce president Richard Cooper said.

READ MORE: Mountain pine beetle epidemic sparks wildfire concerns in Jasper

Cooper said Parks Canada has worked to keep local businesses in the loop though, and everyone realizes the work needs to be done.

“I know Parks Canada looked very closely at how they could potentially close it at non-peak periods, but due to the seasonality of our weather, it’s simply not a practical solution.”

The owner of Bear’s Paw Cafe, Kim Stark, said in addition to her bottom line, she’s worried the closure could increase the amount of illegal camping happening on the side of the roads in the park.

“That’s an issue for the animals. It’s an issue for the park. It’s happening now with that site open. So when it’s closed? It’s going to be a nightmare,” she said.

Parks Canada has nine other campgrounds in Jasper that will be open, as well as one additional space.

“We’ll have the overflow going. We use the overflow quite a bit in the summer. It’s over just off Highway 16. But it isn’t the iconic experience that you have with the woods in Whistlers,” Young explained.

There are also other options just outside the park boundaries.

“I know the private campgrounds have been in touch with us about how they can fill the void. There’s good opportunities both on the Valemount side – the BC side – and the Hinton side.”

Cooper said his best advice for tourists is simple.

“Book early, get ahead of it. The booking window for Jasper gets further and further out.”

Last season, nearly 2.5 million people visited Jasper National Park.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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