The people of Waterton Lakes National Park are eagerly awaiting its reopening on June 1.
“Had you seen it a couple weeks ago, when typically the park should be busy, it was like a ghost town. You almost wanted to cry when you drove through,” incoming president of the Waterton Lakes Leaseholders Association, Elizabeth Martin-Jong said Thursday.
Martin-Jong said leaseholders are prepared with sanitizing stations in their cottages and cabins, PPE and strict social distancing orders that align with the rest of the province.
Even with the restrictions in place, there is still plenty to do and see, including Cameron Falls, which Martin-Jong says is flowing stronger than it has in years past.
“We’ve come through the devastation of the Kenow fire,” Martin-Jong said. “That summer, our falls [weren’t] even running snow white. It was full of grey and black soot. So this is a renewal, a revival of Waterton, it feels.”
Businesses won’t be rushing to reopen though, as they take extra precautions with COVID-19 preparation.
“Over the course of the month, more and more businesses will start to dip their toes in the water and start opening up,” explained Waterton Park Chamber of Commerce vice-president Shameer Suleman.
Suleman said the Bayshore Inn and its affiliate restaurants are waiting until June 26 to open. The Prince of Wales hotel will be opening on June 30, just ahead of Canada Day.
“We have all sort of decided that we want to go over and above to make sure we have all of the safety protocols in place, so when we open, we are ready to accept guests safely,” Suleman said. “And we do expect a big wave — we do.”
While many people in the townsite are looking forward to welcoming back visitors beginning June 1, Parks Canada officials have some strong reminders for those looking forward to day in Waterton.
“We expect that people will follow all of our physical distancing guidelines,” Christy Gustavison with Parks Canada’s Waterton Lakes field unit said. “So staying at least two metres away from people not in your household. Practicing hand hygiene, come prepared with hand sanitizers, wipes, table cloths if they’re planning to have a picnic.”
The safety measures aren’t just for humans.
“We want visitors to follow those physical distancing guidelines from our wildlife,” added Gustavison, indicating that people should stay a minimum of 15 metres away from deer and sheep, and 30 metres from large carnivores such as bears and cougars.
Overnight camping is suspended until June 21, but day trips are encouraged.
“So [people can still try] hiking, picnicking, enjoying the lakeshore — those types of activities,” Gustavison said.
Many public bathroom facilities will be closed, so park officials say it’s best to plan rest stops ahead of time.