Banff, Jasper, Kootenay and Yoho national parks to get infrastructure upgrades

The Parks Canada administration building is pictured in the Town of Banff.  (Helen Pike/CBC - image credit)
The Parks Canada administration building is pictured in the Town of Banff. (Helen Pike/CBC - image credit)

Ottawa plans to spend $71 million over the next three years to fix aging infrastructure in some of the nation's mountain parks.

Banff, Jasper, Yoho and Kootenay national parks will receive funding for a handful of projects.

The money will be used to repave roads, update Parks Canada's emergency dispatch equipment and overhaul the main road visitors take to catch a glimpse of Lake Louise.

"A lot of these investments are going to unfold pretty rapidly," said Lake Louise, Yoho and Kootenay field unit superintendent François Masse.

"What you're going to see on the highways, a lot of this is going to be repaving. We're also going to take the opportunity to look at connectivity for aquatic life and also improving the fencing. Where you're going to see a major difference is on the Lake Louise Drive."

The Hamlet of Lake Louise, Alta., has been one of the busiest areas in Banff National Park, which gets about four million visitors annually.

A recent report noted a 29 per cent increase in visitors throughout the park between 2010 and 2019 — and some roads around Lake Louise have seen a 71 per cent increase in traffic volume.

Recently, Parks Canada announced private vehicles are no longer allowed to drive to Moraine Lake, but this funding announcement won't change access for Lake Louise, Masse said.

The project is seen as an opportunity to improve area traffic flows and improve access for shuttle buses and cyclists.

"There is no plan at this time to limit access to Lake Louise to private vehicle," Masse said. "This is really about improving access for the current mix … that we've got to Lake Louise and also improving access for active transportation."

Helen Pike/CBC
Helen Pike/CBC

He stressed the road won't be made wider, improvements will focus on smoothing out how intersections are set up, road signs and better ways to prevent vehicles from parking illegally along the road. A wildlife crossing or other connectivity measures are also being considered, Masse added.

These investments are what the Association for Mountain Parks Protection and Enjoyment has been advocating for. Executive director Debbie Harksen said these parks are Canada's crown jewel and need to be cared for and kept up.

Lake Louise, she said, is an attraction that needs attention and has a lot of room for improvement.

"This sounds like it will be a major upgrade," Harksen said. "Devil's always in the details, of course. So we really look forward to digging in to see what the plans are."

She hopes Parks Canada can pair these improvements with longer-term transportation planning for Lake Louise so that these improvements don't become a one-off, temporary fix.

"What are we working towards long term? I think we really still need to have that," she said.

Mick Carroll
Mick Carroll

While road improvements are coming to Yoho National Park, this funding will not address the public's calls to twin the Trans-Canada Highway through that park.

Terry Duguid, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for Parks Canada, told reporters there is a budget coming, and he plans to relay stakeholder priorities to Ottawa.

Masse reiterated the project just needs a funding source to move forward.

Parks Canada says the money is part of $557 million in recently announced funding over three years to ensure continuation of infrastructure projects and maintenance work in the parks.