Weekend crowds overwhelm closed parks facilities leaving huge mess behind

Alberta Parks is reminding people to practise social distancing, even in the great outdoors, and asking park visitors to clean up after themselves.

This past weekend saw huge crowds at some of the popular outdoor areas west of Calgary, and some huge messes left behind — garbage, diapers and even human waste were found at some of the closed facilities, parks officials said in a statement.

With parks facilities like toilets, picnic areas and playgrounds closed as part of COVID-19 safety measures, park areas are still accessible to the public, so the province is reminding visitors they need to plan ahead for closed facilities.

That's what hikers Aidan Backus and Kirin Dhillon did, bringing their own garbage bags on a weekend hike in the Elbow Valley.

"When you come here, it's your responsibility to take what you bring with you," Dhillon said. "So I think that's kind of on us, in part."

Dave Gilson/CBC

And while the two say they're glad to see people taking advantage of the nice weather, they say they're also mindful of closed facilities and recent crowds.

"So we brought trash bags and gloves to pick up anything we see," Backus said. "Just to make sure it's staying as pristine as possible."

Katie Morrison with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society says it's important for people to get outdoors to connect with nature, but she adds they need to pack out their waste.

"It's also really important that as people are getting out there, also, being prepared and being responsible stewards of our natural areas," she said. "Practising things like 'leave no trace' and practising proper bear safety protocols."

Bear protocols?

That's right. It's just the time of year when bears are emerging from their dens.

Morrison says people need to remember that garbage attracts bears.