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Vehicle access now banned at Alberta provincial parks and recreation areas

Jason Kenney
Premier Jason Kenney declares COVID-19 a public health emergency on March 17, 2020. GOVERNMENT OF ALBERT PHOTO

Vehicle access has been temporarily suspended at all access points to all provincial parks as well as provincial recreation areas.

On Friday afternoon, the provincial government announced restrictions to help stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus and are the same restrictions currently in place at national parks.

The provincial government said last weekend revealed a disturbing trend of people not exercising physical distancing and leaving behind garbage and human waste in some provincial parks.

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health has advised that parks facilities, like washrooms, can only remain open if parks staff have access to personal protective gear for cleaning. The government recognizes that these scarce resources are needed in Alberta’s health-care and social services front lines, which is why facilities will remain closed and access restricted to help reduce the spread of the virus.

Albertans who choose to access the province’s parks and recreation areas should follow the advice of government health experts on physical distancing and public gatherings.

“We understand the need to get outdoors, but now is not the time to visit our provincial parks and recreation areas without abiding by common-sense public health and safety measures. We are asking all Albertans to assist us by complying with the public access restriction and to stay home during this critical time. If you have plans to travel to a provincial park or provincial recreation area, please rethink your plans. We all need to do our part to help minimize the spread of COVID-19 among vulnerable Albertans, including ensuring protective gear is available for the service providers that need it most. If you decide to access parks and recreation areas at this time, please leave the area better than how you found it," Jason Nixon, Minister of Environment and Parks, said.

The suspension applies to motor vehicle access to parking lots and staging areas. Albertans should choose recreation opportunities close to home, like going for a walk in their neighbourhood, but if they do travel to provincial parks or recreation sites, access is by non-motorized means only.

The restrictions do not apply to forestry or oil and gas operations.

Access for First Nations and identified Metis harvesters is still permitted. Physical distancing and mass gathering restrictions still apply.

Enforcement officers will be doing routine checks in provincial parks and on public land to support education and awareness on the temporary closure. Officers can issue fines for non-compliance, if required.

The province added it is asking Albertans to exercise good judgment. Vehicles should not be left on the side of the road or on private property. If a car is required to be left behind while using a park or public land, do not go. Horseback and off-highway vehicle use are still permitted where legal, and users are reminded to practise physical distancing.

Alberta Parks facilities, including toilets and picnic and warm-up shelters, have been closed for more than a week to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. No parks staff are currently supporting facility operations so visitor safety cannot be ensured.

Improper disposal of garbage and waste also has the potential to draw wildlife, like bears coming out of hibernation, close to facilities and amenities, which creates an issue for when provincial parks resume normal operations. Fines of up to $250 for littering will be issued to users who dispose of garbage improperly. Albertans are asked to take out whatever they take in with them when they visit parks and public lands.