Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Waterton Lakes National Park in 2018

Extreme ecological changes have taken place in Waterton Lakes National Park (Parks Canada photo)
Parks Canada today issued press releases outlining the available facilities and attractions at Waterton Lakes National Park for the 2018 tourism season. It is "committed to providing fun and memorable visitor experiences in Waterton Lakes National Park in 2018," but the management of the Park in 2018 "will be unprecedented and complex" in the aftermath of last fall's Kenow Fire. Visitors to the park are welcome to engage in numerous recreation opportunities, including "a full range of special events, volunteer activities, and interpretation programs this year. " Visitors are advised to not drink water from any source other than the townsite supply.

Don't drink the water

"Visitors should not drink water from any source other than the townsite supply. Personal water purification technologies such as handheld filters and chemical tablets are not adequate to ensure drinking water is safe after the effects of the Kenow Wildfire."  Click here for more safety information.


Following the wildfire, animals may behave unpredictably, including entering the townsite in search of food. For your safety and the safety of the animals, never approach, feed or entice wildlife. Dispose of garbage only in bear-proof bins located throughout the townsite in order to avoid attracting wildlife. Report all wildlife observations / encounters by calling 1-888-WARDENS (1-888-927-3367).

Rock climbing and scrambling

The extreme temperatures that boulders and cliffs were exposed to during the wildfire have caused the rock surfaces to become brittle. This means that rocks and climbing areas that were once solid may now have increased rockfall hazard and insecure hand and foot holds. All rock climbing anchors and bolts need to be treated will extreme caution. Trees should no longer be considered as secure anchor options.

Open in 2018:
  • Entrance Road and adjacent facilities
  • Townsite
  • Waterton Lakes
  • Chief Mountain Highway
  • Red Rock Parkway - for non-motorized use (hiking and biking) from the Entrance Road to the Bellevue. "Visitors should exercise caution as operational vehicle traffic may be present on the road. Public access to this portion of the parkway may change depending on construction schedules."
  • Prairie Trail
  • Temporary Visitor Centre at the Lion’s Hall on Fountain Avenue (opening date tba).
  • Click here for a full list of the available recreation opportunities.
Closed in 2018:

  • "Visitor safety is a top priority for Parks Canada. As a result, many areas affected by the Kenow Wildfire in September 2017 will remain closed for summer 2018 due to hazards such as dangerous trees, slope instability, and damaged infrastructure.
  • The entire Akamina Parkway and the Red Rock Parkway from Bellevue Prairie Trail to Red Rock Canyon - along with associated recreation opportunities in these areas - will remain closed in 2018. It is too early to provide a timeline for when these areas will re-open."
This map shows what is available to visitors in Waterton Lakes National Park in 2018, including open and closed trails, roads and facilities. Click here for a larger version.
Kenow Fire aftermath
  • The Kenow Fire affected 38% of the park and 50% of Waterton Lakes National Park vegetation last fall. 
  • Over 30 assets were lost or significantly impacted, including both the Red Rock and Akamina Parkways, and a considerable portion of the trail network.
  • As conditions dry out this summer, there will be loose ash and dirt in the park. Strong winds will transport this ash and dirt and could cause air quality and visibility issues.
  • In fire-affected areas, reduced shade due to the burning of the forest canopy will make hiking and walking on hot and sunny days more strenuous.
  • Due to the lack of a canopy, hiking trails will become slicker in rainy weather.
  • Rock that was once held in place by vegetation is now loose and more unstable. Take care when travelling over steep slopes and rocky areas and reduce your overhead hazard to steep slopes and cliffs where fallen trees or loose rocks may roll downhill. Increased rock or debris fall hazard can be expected during rainy or windy weather. Also, watch out for hazards from damaged or destroyed infrastructure like steel, nails and glass.
  • Any trails that are open have been fully assessed for hazard trees and the risks appropriately mitigated. Travel off trail carries increased risk of injury from falling trees. Travel quickly and spread your group out to reduce exposure time. Avoid burnt forests during windy conditions with rain or snow.
  • A complete understanding of the impact of this wildfire on the park’s ecology will take many years to assess.
  • Parks Canada will be assessing the extent of the damage and developing plans for the future.
  • The Kenow wildfire has removed canopy cover in the park which will provide an opportunity for smaller, ground-based plants to establish. Fire kick-starts regeneration by providing ideal growing conditions. Many ecosystems have evolved with fire and depend on it for renewal. A recent burn may seem dead but many forms of life survive, giving rise to a new forest.
  • Planning to develop a long-term recovery approach for Waterton is underway. Parks Canada says it is "working to restore the National Park experience in a manner that is safe for our many hundreds of thousands of annual visitors and fully consistent with the ecological objectives for the park."
To report park offences, wildlife concerns or visitor safety issues phone: 1-888-WARDENS (1-888-927-3367). Toll free 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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