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Coronavirus: Banff National Park prepares for June 1 reopening

Popular day-use areas in Banff National Park will reopen June 1, but many trails will still be closed. Parks Canada is asking people to check online and have an alternate plan before hitting the road.
Popular day-use areas in Banff National Park will reopen June 1, but many trails will still be closed. Parks Canada is asking people to check online and have an alternate plan before hitting the road. Cami Kepke/Global News

Banff National Park is preparing to reopen on Monday as COVID-19 restrictions ease.

READ MORE: Banff ‘ready to welcome visitors back’ as Alberta eases COVID-19 restrictions

With rain beating down on the streets of Banff on May 31, business owners and park officials said it is anyone’s guess what the coming week will look like.

“It’s certainly an opportunity for people in Alberta or the East Kootenays, the regional area, to get out and enjoy the benefits of being outside,” said Banff Field Unit Supt. David McDonough.

“It’s a good time to ease into the reopening.”

On June 1, popular day-use areas will reopen but many restrictions will stay in place.

Parking will be more strict, the hot springs and visitor centre will stay closed and camping facilities won’t open until June 21 at the earliest.

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The Bow Valley Parkway will remain blocked off from the east entrance to Castle Junction, which means the Johnston Canyon hike is off-limits until further notice.

“It’s really important that people have an alternate plan, an alternate to go to,” McDonough added.

“We will be actively managing parking lots and we’ll have people on site, as we did in 2017 and other busy times, to ensure people move along if there are no parking spots.”

McDonough recommended bringing a “COVID-19 kit” filled with hand sanitizer, toilet paper, masks and other things that may not be widely available at trailheads.

On May 26, Banff Mayor Karen Sorenson lifted the mountain town’s state of local emergency and welcomed tourists once again.

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Restaurant owners say their opening week was fairly tentative and are not sure what to expect going forward.

Typically, rainy Junes aren’t their busiest time of year, but they’ve noticed more tourists are starting to make their way in from Calgary.

“It’s a nervous energy, for sure,” Elk and Oarsman owner Craig Paton said.

“We’re all working incredibly hard to make sure everybody stays safe but there’s also that concern… what if there’s an onslaught of people and all of a sudden you have to control crowds and make sure everybody is safe and your staff is safe?”

READ MORE: Banff’s economy ‘devastated,’ mayor says, but community rallying together

Banff National Park saw more than four million visitors over the 2018-19 season.

Town officials and businesses are urging people to stay home if they can’t follow the rules but they hope to see visitors respectfully take in all the park and town have to offer.

“Hopefully, there’s some pent-up energy out there and everyone wants to get back to the mountains and enjoy the beautiful scenery,” Paton said.

“For the town to survive, it needs tourism and a lot of it.”

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