Coronavirus: Jasper mayor reminds people not to visit during long weekend

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WATCH: The mayor of Jasper is reminding people to stay away from the town this long weekend. Visitor services are still closed along with some roads and campgrounds. Nicole Stillger looks at how the ongoing public health crisis has affected the mountain community – May 16, 2020

The streets in downtown Jasper are mostly deserted these days.

It’s an unusual sight, especially during the Victoria Day long weekend, which is typically seen as the kick-off to summer.

“This is going to be a very different long weekend from the normal for us,” said Richard Cooper, president of the Jasper Park Chamber of Commerce, on Friday.

“It’s like living in a ghost town,” resident Alan Butler said. He has lived in Jasper for more than four decades.

Click to play video: 'Camp Horizon cancels spring, summer camps for the first time in over 50 years' Camp Horizon cancels spring, summer camps for the first time in over 50 years
Camp Horizon cancels spring, summer camps for the first time in over 50 years – May 16, 2020

“Walking down the street and seeing parking spots on Patricia Street this time of year and nobody around — it’s just so bizarre,” Butler added.

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The mayor of Jasper is reminding people, however, that’s exactly what they want.

“Now is still not the time to visit Jasper,” Mayor Richard Ireland said. “The backyard is not quite ready.”

Visitor services are still closed along with some roads and campgrounds.

“That day is coming, it’s not too far away, so just exercise some patience, and when we are able to safely and responsibly welcome people back to the community, we will be so excited to do that.”

Some of Canada’s national parks and historic sites will begin to reopen June 1, but only in places where it’s considered safe to do so. It’s not clear yet exactly which ones will open.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: National parks, historic sites partially reopening in June

Camping in parks will also not be allowed until at least June 21.

“We’re nearly ready to welcome guests with open metaphorical arms and back to Jasper,” Cooper said.

“We’re using this time to really ramp up the safety pieces that we’ve been putting in place.”

Cooper said that’s been the focus since the novel coronavirus pandemic started.

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“We’ve been navigating it very carefully and conscientiously,” he explained. “Trying to support businesses through this very, very challenging and unique time for us.”

Like much of Alberta, businesses in the mountain community began to reopen May 14 with restrictions.

“We’re really proud of the way our community has responded to this pandemic,” Ireland said.

Downtown Jasper’s Patricia Street on May 15. Nicole Stillger / Global News

No Tourism

Jasper is not only dealing with the closure of the community, but the loss of the local economy.

“It does show what happens when all of our economic fortunes rest on one industry,” Ireland said.

According to the mayor, the situation has highlighted just how integrated everyone is.

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“Those very few businesses that may not be tourism related, either directly or indirectly, certainly feel the impact on quality of life here,” he said.

Jasper resident, Ted Henke, has lived in the town for more than 40 years. He thinks it’s going to be a tough summer for many businesses here.

“We’re not going to get the big influx of international tourists,” he explained.

“We were not going to get the Australians. Normally, this is Australia time — May to June — parts of July.”

Cooper said it’s going to be a learning experience.

“As we understand what the demand is for the town and as the activation happens,” he explained.

“There’ll be a ramp up opening of the hotels within Jasper, some will open, and some will will look to drive their openings based on volumes coming through.”

Even after the projected June 1 reopening date, the mayor suspects it will be far from a normal summer.

“We can have at least upwards of 20,000 to 25,000 people here on any given day,” Ireland said.

“Our community, on the other hand, is less than 5,000 people — so we are used to crowded streets on a typical summer — that’s just not a reality for this summer.”

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He said the community is using tourism modeling to get a sense of what to expect.

“That is primarily the regional traffic,” he explained.

“Those people have sustained us always and we recognize that they considered Jasper to be their backyard.”

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