OTTAWA — A large number of Canada's national parks and historic sites will partly reopen for daytime visitors next month but Canadians should plan to go only to those fairly close to home, Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said Thursday.
Canada shut down all 46 national parks and 171 national historic sites on March 25 as part of the effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. Wilkinson said as spring begins to really take hold in most of the country, and with the blessing of public health experts, it's time to start opening them back up.
"Increasingly in many areas, people are wanting to be outside and we want to be sure we are providing space for people to physically distance in a safe way," Wilkinson said.
Many, though not all, national parks, historic sites and marine conservation areas will reopen June 1, he said, depending on whether they are in areas where it is considered safe to do so.
Trails, day-use areas, green spaces and some recreational boating will also be permitted at that time, but Wilkinson said people should check online before heading out to see whether their local park is open for their chosen activity. He said it is also not a good idea at this point to travel a long way to take advantage of the parks.
"It is aimed at giving people who live approximate to the park to get out and get some exercise in a safe way where they can physically distance," he said.
"We are not envisaging people driving long distances to go to the park."
Camping will be off limits until at least June 21. Parks Canada will reassess whether to open camping in national parks at that point.
"We need to be thoughtful and listen to the advice of public health officials in the provinces and we have been doing that," he said.
Most provinces have already reopened provincial parks for day use or will before the end of May. Several plan to add camping on June 1.
The full list of what national sites will be open June 1 should be available next week, said Wilkinson. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau indicated Thursday that national parks or historic sites that are near remote Indigenous communities will stay closed for now.
So will Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site in Haida Gwaii in British Columbia. The park is co-managed with the Haida Nation, which is not comfortable opening it to the public at this time, said Wilkinson.
British Columbia opened many of its provincial parks Thursday but kept several in and around the Vancouver area closed because of fears they would draw crowds.
Wilkinson said the next two weeks will see Parks Canada working to prepare for the opening of some services, bringing back mostly full-time staff for now. He hopes to hire summer students in the near future.
To keep crowds limited in the parks, some parking lots will be closed or reduced in size, and while washrooms will be open, most visitors services kiosks won't be staffed, at least at first. That means for a short time people will not have to pay to get in.
Once the visitors' kiosks are opened regular pricing will apply, said Wilkinson.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 14, 2020.
Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press