A tale of two mountain towns: Banff asks Albertans to stay away during May long, Jasper gates stay open
EDMONTON -- Officials in one world-famous tourist destination are asking Albertans to stay away for the upcoming May long weekend.
The mayor of Banff is asking people to postpone their trips to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
About 300 kilometres north on Highway 93, Jasper's mayor recognizes the town nestled in Jasper National Park has "exactly what people are looking for in this pandemic," but says it is neither encouraging nor discouraging people to visit.
Of the two mountain hotspots, only one has also been called a COVID-19 hotspot.
“We completely understand that the town of Banff is the backyard for Albertans. They are feeling a real need to get out and get somewhere. We just need a little bit longer,” said Karen Sorensen, mayor of Banff.
“This is an incredibly hard message to put out there.”
The plea falls in line with advice from the province’s top doctor, who has said a normal summer could be partially dependent on Albertans staying close to home.
Banff saw a rise in COVID-19 cases at the end of April.
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Sorensen added that the typical services offered in Banff are shuttered under current public health restrictions.
“We have no restaurants or patios open our retail is very limited. And because we are a small community, there is a fear that if someone got sick or there was an emergency there is the fear of overrunning our services.”
OPEN, BUT WITH RESTRICTIONS: JASPER MAYOR
According to the latest data, Banff is currently home to 12 COVID-19 cases and Jasper two. But since COVID-19 was first reported in Alberta, Banff's number of cases has tripled Jasper's. The southern municipality has counted 800 cases in total while Jasper has had 234.
Jasper's mayor said he is neither encouraging nor discouraging people from visiting the town and national park.
"We are open. We have exactly what people are looking for in this pandemic. People can come and safely enjoy, be physically distanced out in nature, but there are necessary restrictions," Richard Ireland told CTV News Edmonton, adding he expects visitors will come anyway.
"We're not trying to be discouraging. We're not taking overt efforts to be encouraging.
"We understand everyone is in their own place with this pandemic, as are we."
ELK ISLAND REMINDS VISITORS OF VEHICLE LIMIT
Another national park in the province, Elk Island east of Edmonton, didn't exactly ask visitors to stay away, but warned of the difficulty of trying to visit during peak times.
In 2020, the park implemented a 600-vehicle limit to address high traffic volumes resulting in overcrowded parking lots and long waits for highway access.
"Parks Canada asks visitors to enjoy Elk Island National Park midweek and not to visit on weekends," a statement read.
"If visitors must come to Elk Island National Park on weekends, they are strongly encouraged to come before 11 a.m. or after 4 p.m. to avoid the disappointment of not being able to enter the park if the number of vehicles has exceeded capacity."
Parks Canada officials told CTV News Edmonton the vehicle limit is likely to stay past the pandemic.
With files from CTV News Edmonton's Jeremy Thompson