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Ottawa spending $21M to help fire damaged Waterton Lakes National Park

Click to play video: 'Federal government sets aside $21M towards Waterton Lakes restoration' Federal government sets aside $21M towards Waterton Lakes restoration
WATCH ABOVE: Ottawa is stepping up to help with the recovery of Waterton Lakes National Park following the 2017 Kenow Wildfire. Kyle Benning tells us how the federal government is helping the park's restoration efforts – Jan 25, 2019

Ottawa is spending nearly $21 million to help Waterton Lakes National Park in southwestern Alberta bounce back from a destructive wildfire that scorched nearly 40 per cent of it.

“This funding really is a kick-start to get some of that heavy lifting done to restore and rebuild Waterton to the icon that it is,” park Supt. Salman Rasheed said Friday.

READ MORE: Wildfire prompts evacuation alert for people in Waterton Lakes National Park

A lightning strike in British Columbia in September 2017 ignited a fire that spread into Waterton and caused the whole park to be evacuated. The flames burned through 200 square kilometres and 80 per cent of the park’s hiking trails.

The visitor centre and other buildings were destroyed, but crews managed to stop the flames from spreading into Waterton’s townsite and saved the historic Prince of Wales Hotel.

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Rasheed said the focus since the fire so far has been on safety. Dozens of sites were contaminated as day-use areas and petroleum storage tanks burned. Fallen trees posed hazards and needed to be cleared.

READ MORE: Rocking Heart Ranch continues rebuild after Kenow fire

He said the first projects to benefit from the federal cash will be repairs to the scenic 14-kilometre Red Rock Parkway and a rebuild of the popular Bear’s Hump hiking trail.

Restoring the 16-kilometre Akamina Parkway and Crandell Mountain Campground will need more time for planning and design.

It won’t be known how extensive repairs will be until hydrology, slope stability and avalanche hazards are assessed, Rasheed said. It could be as simple as replacing burned guard rails and repaving the parkways, or bridges and culverts may need to be replaced.

READ MORE: Parks Canada puts brakes on Icefields Parkway bike trail in Alberta

Some money is to go toward monitoring and protecting the park’s ecosystem. Freshly burned environments may provide a blank slate for invasive species, Rasheed said. There will also be research, in collaboration with local Blackfoot people, into Indigenous archeological sites the fire unearthed.

Despite the fire’s effects, Waterton saw about 400,000 visitors last year — about on par with past years, Rasheed said.

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“People are coming down and seeing the ecological response to the fire and we’ve been very happy with the visitation to date.”

Earlier this week, Parks Canada scrapped plans for a 107-kilometre cycling route along the scenic Icefields Parkway that runs through Jasper and Banff national parks.

Some of the $66 million that had been earmarked for that project is instead going toward restoring Waterton.

Calgary Liberal MP Kent Hehr, who made the announcement on behalf of Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, said there would have been federal help for Waterton regardless of the Icefields project’s fate.

“This is a crown jewel in our parks system and there is no doubt the government of Canada would have stepped up to the plate to ensure that this continues to be a vibrant place for our visitors … as well as do our level best to restore its ecological integrity.”

GALLERY: Images of the Kenow wildfire in Waterton Lakes National Park and the aftermath.

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Historical trading artifacts have surfaced amid the scorched earth of Waterton Lakes National Park. Demi Knight
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Nearly a year after the Kenow wildfire tore through Waterton Lakes National Park, work continues to restore the landscape and to reopen areas still closed to the public. Global News
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The Alpine Stables horseback riding business was devastated by the Kenow fire. Global News
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Large black bear feeds on cow elk after Kenow Wildfire in Alberta. Courtesy: Parks Canada
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Bear and cub feed on bull elk after Kenow Wildfire in Waterton Lakes National Park. Courtesy: Parks Canada
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Family business Alpine Stables was destroyed in the Kenow fire. Photo Credit: Deb Watson
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A photo of Alpine Stables prior to it being destroyed by the Kenow wild fire. Photo Credit: alpinestables.com
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On Tuesday, a southern Alberta rancher said the Kenow Mountain wildfire had "slowed with the wind switching back on it.". COURTESY: Carter Marr
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On Tuesday, a southern Alberta rancher said the Kenow Mountain wildfire had "slowed with the wind switching back on it." He said that allowed to "open gates for cattle close to the flames.". COURTESY: Carter Marr
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On Tuesday, a southern Alberta rancher said the Kenow Mountain wildfire had "slowed with the wind switching back on it.". COURTESY: Carter Marr
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On Tuesday, a southern Alberta rancher said the Kenow Mountain wildfire had "slowed with the wind switching back on it.". COURTESY: Carter Marr
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A large plume of smoke is seen over Waterton Lakes National Park as the Kenow Mountain wildfire burns. Global News
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Extensive damage from the Kenow Mountain wildfire is seen in Waterton Lakes National Park. Contributed/Wes Schwindt
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Extensive damage from the Kenow Mountain wildfire is seen in Waterton Lakes National Park. Contributed/Wes Schwindt
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Extensive damage from the Kenow Mountain wildfire is seen in Waterton Lakes National Park. Contributed/Wes Schwindt
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Extensive damage from the Kenow Mountain wildfire is seen in Waterton Lakes National Park. Contributed/Wes Schwindt
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Crews battle the Kenow Mountain wildfire in Waterton Lakes National Park on Monday, Sept. 11. Contributed/Brennen Hanna
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Crews battle the Kenow Mountain wildfire in Waterton Lakes National Park on Monday, Sept. 11. Contributed/Brennen Hanna
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Crews battle the Kenow Mountain wildfire in Waterton Lakes National Park on Monday, Sept. 11. Contributed/Brennen Hanna
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Crews battle the Kenow Mountain wildfire in Waterton Lakes National Park on Monday, Sept. 11. Contributed/Brennen Hanna
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Crews battle the Kenow Mountain wildfire in Waterton Lakes National Park on Monday, Sept. 11. Contributed/Brennen Hanna
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Crews battle the Kenow Mountain wildfire in Waterton Lakes National Park on Monday, Sept. 11. Contributed/Brennen Hanna
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A home is seen burned to the ground near Waterton Lakes National Park where the Kenow Mountain wildfire is burning out of control. Twitter/@SierraGarner7
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A home is seen burned to the ground near Waterton Lakes National Park where the Kenow Mountain wildfire is burning out of control. Twitter/@SierraGarner7
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The Prince of Wales hotel is seen amid a cloud of smoke as the Kenow Mountain wildfire burns through Waterton Lakes National Park. Twitter/@TheDewser
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Photo of the Kenow Mountain wildfire taken from the Waterton town site on Sept. 11, 2017. CREDIT: Facebook/MD of Taber Regional Fire Department
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Smoke from the Kenow Mountain wildfire is seen in the Waterton Lakes area on Sept. 11, 2017. Tim Lee/ Global News

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