The majority of Waterton Lakes National Park, a gem of Canada’s Rocky Mountains, has been closed due to the unforeseen impact of heavy rainfall and subsequent flooding.
Popular with hikers, campers, and sightseers, this vast wilderness is now eerily quiet as Parks Canada grapples with the damage caused by these natural disasters, forcing an indefinite pause on most recreational activities within the park’s boundaries.
The unexpected deluge has covered much-loved trails and backcountry roads with thick layers of rocks and mud, creating unsafe conditions for even the most experienced outdoor enthusiasts.
According to Waterton Lakes National Park’s Facebook page, on the evening of June 11, a significant rain event (50+ mm) occurred over a portion of Waterton Lakes National Park and has caused debris flows in several areas and roads are affected.
“An area closure is in place for All backcountry areas and hiking trails, on and off-trail activities (trail use, climbing, scrambling, etc.) are not permitted at this time, Red Rock Parkway, Akamina Parkway, and all backcountry campgrounds [are also closed],” the Facebook post indicated.
Parks Canada has worked tirelessly to keep some areas of the park accessible to the public. The townsite and its historic neighbor, the Prince of Wales Hotel, remain open amidst the largely closed-off wilderness. However, the broader closure has hit at the worst possible time for the local tourism industry, coming just as the summer high season was about to get into full swing.
Local entrepreneurs, many of whom rely heavily on the influx of summer tourists, expressed concerns.
Steve West, the owner of Trapper’s Mountain Grill and Smokehouse, shared his mixed feelings on the situation, “We’re sitting with our hands open, ready for business. There’s no need discouraging people — the boat rides are still going . . . not everybody is a back-country hiker.”
The situation is particularly concerning for private campground owners in the surrounding areas. Already grappling with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic and the devastating Kenow wildfire in 2017, these business owners are now faced with the stark reality of significantly reduced tourist traffic for an indefinite period.
The Parks Canada Agency has taken to social media to document the damage and share updates. They posted a photo of the trailhead at Bear’s Hump, a site typically bustling with outdoor enthusiasts, now choked with rocks washed down by the floodwaters.
Parks Canada hasn’t provided a clear timeline for reopening the park fully. Disobeying these closures could lead to hefty penalties, with fines reaching up to CA$25,000.
With an unclear reopening schedule, local businesses, including private campgrounds, are bracing for a challenging summer season.
While the current situation is challenging for nearby private campgrounds, it presents an opportunity for the broader community and Parks Canada to work together to navigate through difficult circumstances and find ways to adapt, making the best of what’s available while ensuring the safety of visitors.
Featured image from Waterton Lakes National Park, Parks Canada.