Alberta temporarily suspends vehicle access to provincial parks

Ahead of what was expected to be a busy weekend due to warming temperatures, Alberta has moved to ban vehicle access to its provincial parks and recreation areas.

The ban, which came into effect Friday at 1 p.m., follows a busy weekend in provincial parks which saw cars parked along highways near attractions like Elbow Falls and an influx of visitors seeking to escape self-quarantine.

The province said last weekend revealed a “disturbing trend” of people not physical distancing and leaving waste behind.

The move follows the federal government’s move to close national parks to visitors earlier this week. All parking facilities and associated services for visitors closed as of 12:01 a.m. Wednesday until further notice, though highways through the parks remain open.

When asked why Alberta’s provincial parks were not shut down completely, Alberta’s Environment Minister Jason Nixon said the province would evaluate next steps should last weekend’s situation repeat itself. 

“The reality is, in Alberta we are blessed with a tremendous amount of public land … so the reality is, not all park and recreation space is the same. We’re going to focus on areas people drive to and congregate in,” he said during Friday’s daily news briefing. “Other areas of public land across the province are actually people’s backyards.”

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health has said that facilities at provincial parks can only stay open if staff in those areas have access to personal protective gear. Nixon said next steps would need to be taken should crowds and waste grow out of control.

“I won’t tolerate us having to use large [amounts of] personal protective gear for our officials, because we need to make sure that’s diverted to homeless shelters and [elsewhere],” he said. “We’re sending a clear message that we are not looking for large numbers of people to congregate in areas of provincial parks, and we will take action if that’s not the case.”

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