Some national parks opening June 1, but details vague

The federal government announced that some facilities and certain national parks would open starting on June 1, but it’s not yet known if Prince Albert National Park is on that list.

The announcement was made by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during his daily morning COVID-19 briefing and was accompanied by a press release from Environment and Climate Change Canada.

The press release said certain parks would begin to open, but provided few details on which ones had been selected.

A document with more details indicated that in provinces and territories where provincial parks have not opened because of COVID-19 concerns, or in areas where Indigenous partners or communities are uncomfortable with the reopening of parks, protected places will remain closed.

The document advised people to go to the Parks Canada website for more information. Specific park opening information wasn’t posted to the main site, nor the Prince Albert National Park or Batoche National Historic Site webpages.

A local Parks Canada spokesperson referred the Daily Herald to the national media line, which responded by sharing the press release and indicating that information such as  what locations are open and what services will be available will be released “in the coming weeks.”

What Parks Canada did make clear is that visiting protected areas will be different than it has been in the past. Some day-use trails and day-use areas will open, as will some grounds of national historic sites and heritage canals, some boat launches or access points to lakes and some locks, boat launches, access points and mooring areas on historic waterways.

The government said “some” public toilets and other visitor facilities “may” be open, but visitors should expect limited levels of service and limited access to facilities.

Camping, though, including backcountry camping, will remain closed until further notice. All existing reservations will be automatically cancelled and refunded in full.

All group events and interpretive activities are also suspended. The parks will remain closed for Victoria Day Weekend.

The Herald reached out to the Waskesiu Chamber of Commerce but did not receive a response by press time.

Prince Albert Mayor Greg Dionne welcomed the news that national parks would slowly begin to open.

“Anything we can do, as long as we do safe distancing and comply with the health order, will help our economy and encourage people to shop local,” he said.

Speaking Thursday, Trudeau said that while the May Long Weekend will be different than normal, there is “good news” for the weeks ahead.

“Some national parks will be partially reopening so people can use trails and greenspaces where physical distancing is possible,” he said.

“Getting fresh air is important — but we all have to be responsible about it and we all have to be prepared to make adjustments as needed.”

In the press release, the federal government said “being outdoors and in nature brings a number of health and wellness benefits. As all Canadians do their part to flatten the curve of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important they have access to places where they can get fresh air, exercise and practice physical distancing.”

Fishing and boat launches opened in Saskatchewan as part of phase one of its reopening plan on May 4. Parks and campgrounds open June 1. Outdoor recreation operations, such as archery or gun ranges, can begin operating today.