As Gros Morne National Park has seen an increase in local visitors this summer, staff have also seen some unwelcome sights: more litter on trails, dogs off-leash, people feeding wildlife and even toilet paper scattered in the wilderness.
Rob Hingston, Parks Canada's acting visitor experience manager at Gros Morne, said while they see some of that every year, "this year it seems to be a little bit more obvious."
"I think what we have is, we have a lot of people that may not be familiar with national parks and what's expected behaviours with regard to looking after their own safety, and with regard to how they should keep the park unimpaired and protected," said Rob Hingston, Parks Canada's acting visitor experience manager at Gros Morne.
In normal years, Gros Morne is a big draw for people outside the province: only 15 per cent of summer visitors to the park are from Newfoundland and Labrador. In 2020, Hingston said there has been a trickle of tourists from the Atlantic bubble taking in the park's fjords and mountains, but the vast majority of people are coming from elsewhere in the province, many for the first time.
"Anecdotally, just talking to visitors, there does seem to be a lot of people that it is their first time to the park," he said.
Pack in, pack out
Hingston said some of those may not have been as prepared as seasoned campers for the expectations that come from enjoying a natural environment, such as toting your trash along with your for the duration of your hike.
"Just the idea of packing in and packing out seems to be something that people aren't familiar with, so we're seeing a little bit of garbage along the trails, which are things that can potentially attract wildlife and create potential for conflicts between people and wildlife," he said.
Similarly, Hingston said people may not be aware that "pack in, pack out" also applies to soiled toilet paper, which is instead being left behind.
"We're seeing a lot of that," he said.
No matter the type of garbage, Hingston recommends bringing along plastic bags in order to bring all trash out.
There have also been instances of dogs being left off their leashes, which Hingston said can disturb wildlife. There has also been some feeding of wildlife, including one fox that has gotten quite used to people.
"One of the things were trying to do in a national park is make sure that the animals and the environment stays natural, and that means for wild animals to stay wild, so we don't want them to become habituated with visitors," he told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show.
Hingston encouraged people to call ahead to Parks Canada as they plan their trip, or check out the visitors' centre in Rocky Harbour or the Discovery Centre near Woody Point once they arrive.
"We're just trying to make people familiar with what's expected of them," he said.