Elk Island included in Parks Canada relaunch

All of Alberta's National Parks, including Elk Island, will reopen for day-use access on June 1. Photo courtesy Parks Canada

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Nature-lovers rejoice — national parks are about to reopen.

On June 1, all of Alberta’s national parks — Banff, Jasper, Elk Island, Waterton Lakes, and Wood Buffalo National Parks — along with 24 others across the country, will welcome back visitors.

The pandemic shut down parks on March 19, but June 1 will allow for day-use access, including access to day-use areas, trails and washrooms. Visitors are asked to continue practicing physical distancing and for their own safety, they could not attempt to access areas that remain closed.

“Being outdoors and in nature brings a number of health and wellness benefits. As all Canadians do their part to flatten the curve of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important that people have access to natural spaces where they can go to get exercise and fresh air in settings that facilitate physical distancing,” Parks Canada stated in a May 27 update.

Camping will resume June 21. Any campground reservations prior to that date will be cancelled and automatically refunded in full.

Taking a hint from an empty 2020 events calendar on its website, all Elk Island’s group activities, events, and programs will continue to be suspended until further notice.

Astotin Lake, Elk Island National Park. EINP will reopen to the public on June 1, after being shuttered for more than two months due to COVID-19, and camping will resume on June 21. Lindsay Morey/News Staff/File

The move to temporarily suspend visitor access to parks was in an effort to limit the spread of COVID-19 and reduce risks to visitors, employees, and other users of Parks Canada spaces, the agency stated in mid-March.

“The health and safety of Canadians, visitors and Parks Canada team members is our top priority,” the agency stated in its COVID-19 online update.

“Only places and activities where health and safety risks can be managed will be available for visitation. The government is asking Canadians to be cautious and conservative in their use of these places, to observe travel restrictions, to respect the guidance of public health experts, and to make every effort to keep one another safe.”

Reopening details may differ across the country, so visitors are asked to plan ahead by checking online; pc.gc.ca.

“In the short term, our expectation and guidance for day use is that we’re really opening for people who live approximate to the park,” Environment and Climate Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said. “For people in Calgary, it’s Banff or Waterton, for people in Edmonton it’s Jasper … places for local people to go to experience nature and physically distance.”

EINP prescribed fire postponed

Some conservation activities, including external research, were also temporarily suspended by the pandemic. Basic critical operations were limited and many staff worked from home.

A major conservation project will remain paused at Elk Island National Park. The 219-hectare Shirley Lake prescribed fire, which was scheduled to take place this spring, has been postponed until a later date. For the first time in almost two decades, the planned fire would have helped restore the health of grasslands and habitat. With blessing and consultation with Strathcona County Emergency Services, the coordinated initiative would have involved 30 park staff.