Record Snowpack Delays Canadian Park Openings

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May 11, 2011 by   - () Leave a Comment

The long, cold winter is finally over, but its lingering bite is threatening to delay the start of camping season in parts of western Canada until after the May long weekend.

The large snowpack in the mountains has led the national parks to delay the opening of several campgrounds while reserving the decision on several more, The Calgary Herald reported.

And the province is considering a suspension of the off-road trails on forestry land use areas during the Victoria Day weekend.

Omar McDadi, a spokesman for Parks Canada, said several campsites, trails and day spots are sure to be closed during the weekend from May 21 to 23.

Among them; Two Jack Lakeside, Two Jack Main Campground, Lake Louise Tent Campground and the Kootenay National Park Redstreak Campground.

Others may yet be closed, depending on weather.

McDadi said parks officials are working to clear snow and debris in time for the long weekend, and hoped most of the main sites would be able to open.

“We had an amazing winter in the Canadian Rockies and through the mountain parks. It was the kind of winter we were waiting for, there was so much snow and so many things to do,” he said.

“The consequences of the great winter is that it allowed for incredibly big snowpack which remains in places in the mountain parks.

“Couple that with the cold spring we’ve had throughout much of the year and some of the avalanches we’ve had earlier this year that have, in some cases, caused damage in campgrounds.”

McDadi said campers should check the conditions at their favorite sites on the national parks website. Alternative camping sites could also be found on the Radium Hot Springs website.

Alberta Sustainable Resource Development is looking at suspending access to trails used by dirt bikes and all-terrain vehicles in areas including Ghost-Waiparous near Cochrane and McLean Creek near Bragg Creek.

Previous years have seen heavy off-road vehicle damage, littered campgrounds and even burned furniture left behind during the May long weekend, which led to tough new area management strategies.

This year, with the snowpack and frost underneath the muddy top layer, serious damage could be caused if the traditionally high volume of off-roaders head out to popular areas with their vehicles.

The threat is so great that organized off-road groups have joined conservationists to support a suspension on use.

“Our local club supports a one-time ban over the May long weekend due to the exceptionally high snowpack and the condition of the trails,” said Aaron Bauer, trail maintenance director with the Rocky Mountain Dirt Riders.

“Our members spend thousands of volunteer hours a year maintaining the trails and we want to be a part of the solution, not the problem.”

Bauer said his club has advised members to stay away from the Ghost-Waiparous and McLean Creek areas, especially over the long weekend when off-road use is at its peak.

“There’s a potential to do a lot of damage to the trail infrastructure,” said Nigel Douglas, a conservation specialist with the Alberta Wilderness Association.

“The government needs to suspend all the areas, otherwise it will be that much worse for the areas that remain open.”

Douglas said he’s not surprised ATV user groups are supporting the call for a suspension of trail use.

“A lot of motorized vehicle users are worried about this,” said Douglas. “They want a sustainable trail system they can use in the long term.”

The Alberta Off-Highway Vehicle Association said it will support whatever the government decides to do.

Kathy Kiel, spokeswoman for Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, said a ban is being considered, but no decision has been reached.

Cochrane Search and Rescue had an application to use ATVs during a training exercise in Waiparous this weekend denied.

A limited exercise will go ahead, but the group had to resubmit its application to the province.

“We’re not even sure about using mountain bikes,” said Cochrane Search and Rescue spokesman Pete Maisonneuve.

“We should be OK to do foot searches and possibly use horses.”

Late spring snowfall has led to a higher than normal snowpack collecting in the Rockies.

According to the measurement the province uses, there is approximately 3 feet  of snow water equivalent in the snowpack at Sunshine Village ski resort, where Alberta Environment takes its reading.

If the entire snowpack melted, it would unleash 3 feet of water into the rivers.

“That’s above average,” said Carrie Sancartier of Alberta Environment. “Our big concern is if it rains. Rain is the main driver of flooding in Alberta.

“Right now, the snowpack is melting quite slowly, which is what we want to see. If it starts raining, the runoff would happen much faster.”

The city’s water department closely monitors the snowpack from May through mid-July and keeps in contact with Alberta Environment.

Senior planning engineer Frank Frigo said it’s difficult to know how bad flooding might be until it starts raining.

David Phillips, senior climatologist with Environment Canada, said average to below-average precipitation is expected in June.

“It’s always tricky trying to predict precipitation,” said Phillips. “June is typically the wettest month, but it could be a dry June.

“With flooding, it’s all about the timing. If a big storm hits Calgary and hangs around at the same time the melt is at its peak, you have a recipe for flood issues.”

Phillips recommends living in the moment for now.

“You haven’t had four days of above 20-degree weather since Oct. 6 to 10. We’ve got wall-to-wall nice weather this week. Play hooky, call in sick and get outside while it’s here.”

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