CALGARY -- For a town that relies almost entirely on the tourist trade to fuel its economy the pandemic closures have been devastating for Banff.

Unemployment rose to 85 per cent in the mountain community.

International travel remains cancelled for the foreseeable future, so Banff will have to rely on domestic tourists to rebound this summer, which kicked off Monday when the park reopened to visitors, albeit with a few restrictions.

In an interview with CTV News, Banff’s mayor Karen Sorensen said this summer in Banff will be like no other.

“More than 50 per cent of our visitation usually comes from outside of Canada," Sorensen said. "I think we are destined for a fair-to-good summer in terms of amount of visitation, but Banff will not look anything like it has looked in the last few years in terms of the number of visitors that are here.”

Beginning next week Banff Avenue, the main street through town, will be closed to vehicle traffic.

That will allow businesses, especially restaurants, to expand their capacity outdoors.

”We want to make sure in a busy retail location where people may have to line up that there's space for people to do that.” said Sorensen. “We're also trying to encourage our restaurants and our retailers to do some outdoor products service and we want to make sure that there's space for that.”


Campgrounds remain closed

Most campgrounds in the park remain closed, scheduled to reopen June 21, but park officials stress that date is tentative. Backcountry hiking and camping will remain on hold.

“We are evaluating the measures that we can put in place to make that safe.” said Banff park field unit Superintendant Dave McDonough. “I'm quite confident that will be available just later in the season.”

There will also be some big changes for Calgarians hoping to head to the national park for hiking.

One of the biggest is the closure of the Bow Valley Trail, between Banff and Castle Junction. That popular stretch of highway 1A leads to the popular trails at Johnston Canyon.

The only way to access that area now will be to either hike in several kilometres, or ride a bike down the vehicle-free parkway.

“It’s safe to say (the closure will continue) for June, and we'll see there how it's working,“ said McDonough, “and if there are other measures where we can effectively allow people to to hike Johnson Canyon in a safe way, for example, we'll certainly look at those.”

Additionally at all the trail sites in the national park, vehicle parking will be limited.

“We're going to work hard to limit parking to designated parking lots,” addedMcDonough “And where that parking lot is quite large, say at Lake Louise, for example, there may be a further restriction in terms of the capacity of that parking lot.”

McDonough advised visitors to check in advance on the Banff Park website to make sure they will be able to park their car near the trailheads.

There will also be changes to the Lake Minnewanka loop.

That road north of Banff townsite will be converted to a one-way road with one lane reserved for cyclists.

McDonough said this is a pilot project and if successful may become permanent.