Waterton Lakes business owners thrilled with successful summer season, visitation increases
Waterton Lakes National Park. (Karsen Marczuk/CTV News Lethbridge)
Published Monday, October 2, 2023 6:48PM EDT
The 'closed for the season' signs are starting to appear and the leaves are falling on another season in Waterton Lakes National Park.
“[It] has been an awesome year,” said Krystal Cruickshank, owner of Zum's Eatery. “I feel like we’ve rebounded, if you will, from the terrible ‘C’ word of COVID.”
Nearly 70 per cent of the businesses in the town site closed for the season this weekend.
“Visitation was really strong this summer," said Dallas Meidinger, external relations manager with Parks Canada’s Waterton Lakes Field Unit.
“We’re at about 25,000 more visitors than last year. We saw - between June and August - 313,000 visitors come through the park.”
Most of those visitors are from outside Canada. Waterton Chamber of Commerce President Shameer Suleman says without them, the summer destination would not thrive.
“Waterton is that untouched gem,” he said. “That ‘thing’ that everyone thinks that, ‘Oh, my God, Banff is so busy,’ and everything else is so busy and Waterton is just this quiet, beautiful slice of heaven. So, it was nice to have them back.”
“When the international travellers see these majestic mountains, these blue lakes that you don’t see anywhere else, it’s great to see that expression on their face and that’s the thing that came back and that was a joyous thing for us,” Suleman said.
With travel restrictions ended, the Chief Mountain Port of Entry reopened and welcomed more than 55,000 travellers this summer.
“We’re kind of the like the farmers… we have a short season to make our money and we need everything to come together nicely – both tourists and weather,” Cruickshank said.
But, it wasn’t just tourists returning to the park, businesses also had an easier time hiring staff after several years of shortages.
“This is the first year we didn’t struggle to staff from the beginning of the season, May on,” Cruickshank added.
Following the Kenow Wildfire in 2017, Meidinger says ongoing restoration work continues to improve the visitor experience.
“We’re really happy to have our new visitor centre and all these day-use areas open again and to have the construction at Red Rock Canyon done,” he said. “The park is in a really good place now and I think it’s a great time for visitors to come down and check it out.”
Although the leaves are changing and snow is on the top of the mountain ranges, the national park and a few businesses will remain open throughout the winter.
“We certainly need those summer months to make it all work together,” said Max Low, owner of Wieners of Waterton. “We would definitely like to see more people out in the fall and I think in the next couple of weeks we’ll see some nice weather and sunshine so it’s not too late to get some weekends in."