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Locals worried as people still head to Rocky Mountains despite COVID-19 pandemic

People still heading to Rocky Mountains despite COVID-19 pandemic prompts Canmore mayor to speak out
WATCH ABOVER: Alberta provincial and national parks were busy this weekend, despite social distancing reminders to keep two metres apart. Now the mayor of Canmore says he wants tourists to stay away from the mountain town. Adam MacVicar has the details.

It’s long been Alberta’s playground. Many flock to the mountains on the weekend to de-stress and get away.

READ MORE: COVID-19 cases in Alberta now at 226; 16 suspected to be community transmission

To the bewilderment of residents who live in places like Canmore and Bragg Creek, Saturday seemed to be no different. In fact, some residents said their communities were downright bustling despite the COVID-19 pandemic and pleas from governments to stay home.

“It didn’t seem much different than any other normal busy weekend. The parking lot at the Nordic Centre was full. Some trailhead parking lots were full,” said longtime Canmore resident Ann Keith. 

Many stores are closed but there are some restaurants and coffee shops still open in the tourist town.

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Keith, who has a 97-year-old mother living in a seniors’ lodge under lockdown in Canmore, worries people are just not getting the message.

“[Saturday] was the day when it reached its ultimate. I think we were already having difficulty getting the message out to our own community and now we have people from others communities who clearly aren’t getting it,” said the retired realtor.

READ MORE: Alberta seniors’ care centre COVID-19 restrictions isolate some families

Canmore Mayor John Borrowman said the Nordic Centre is officially closed but people aren’t being stopped from skiing there.

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“My message to everybody: there are very few businesses that are actually open for visitors. Really, there isn’t very much to do for people stopping in downtown Canmore. On the other hand, it’s very healthy for Canmore residents and others to de-stress in the outdoors as long as they are being very careful,” Borrowman said.

While Banff has declared a local state of emergency, Canmore has not — but Borrowman said nothing is off the table.

“If the health authority suggests we should be more stringent and shut down parks and trails, then we will. It’s changing so quickly,” Borrowman said.

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READ MORE: Long wait times at Coutts border crossing as COVID-19 travel restrictions set in

Pictures posted to social media on Saturday afternoon showed cars lined up on the road outside an already crammed parking lot at the entrance to popular Elbow Falls in Kananaskis Country.

Monica Niederlich told Global News that she and her boyfriend wanted to walk in the mountains far away from people only to discover everyone else had the same idea.

“We decided to go see what Elbow Falls would be like [Saturday]. When we got there around noon, we saw a large number of vehicles. We immediately changed our minds and turned around,” said the Calgarian.

Provincial medical experts have encouraged Albertans to get fresh air while keeping a safe distance from others — but that may be hard to do if everyone is going to the same places.

“This has to stop. Everybody is working so hard to keep a lid on this. It just has to stop,” said Keith, who is now making it a personal mission to help spread this message.

READ MORE: Town of Cochrane closes playgrounds amid COVID-19 concerns

On Sunday, March 22, the town of Canmore issued a statement, saying visitors should not stop there and instead exercise social responsibility.

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“The provincial chief medical officer of health is still promoting going for a walk in your neighborhood or park or going for a ski on the trails while maintaining distance from others,” the town said.

“If you do this, please avoid high-traffic areas.”