BANFF – Phenomenal ice conditions at Lake Minnewanka in Banff National Park have been creating traffic chaos, forcing Parks Canada to shut the road down on New Year’s Day for about an hour.
In the lead-up to Wednesday (Jan. 1), vehicles parked illegally along the dam and blocked traffic. On New Year’s Day, the portion of Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive open in winter was shut at 2:15 p.m., reopening about an hour later.
“Unfortunately, the high volume of traffic created an unsafe environment where a number of vehicles were parked illegally or blocking a lane,” said Shawn Mulchinock, acting manager for visitor experience for Banff National Park.
“We wanted to keep access to vehicles and also emergency vehicles clear.”
Wild ice skating is big draw in Banff National Park and this season’s crystal clear conditions on Lake Minnewanka have drawn thousands of skaters.
On the Facebook page, Bow Valley Wild Ice, skaters were describing the traffic as “chaos,” but the conditions as some of the most magical they’d ever seen.
Parks Canada doesn’t have an exact count of the number of vehicles on New Year’s Day, but officials say it was “several hundred.” At its peak, parking stretched from the Lake Minnewanka day use area to Two Jack lakeside campground.
On Tuesday (Dec. 31), an ambulance was called after a man fell and badly injured himself. Parks Canada has concerns about emergency vehicles being able to get though.
“We did have an emergency on Dec. 31 and there was an ambulance request to get through,” said Mulchinock.
“We didn’t want a slow down in response times and complicate things.”
Parks Canada has since set up no-parking signs on the road along the dam and other areas where it’s illegal to park – and law enforcement is monitoring.
Mulchinock asks people to obey the signs.
“It’s busy, but not nearly as busy as the first day of the year,” he said. “There’s still favourable conditions.”
According to Parks Canada, ice thickness should be at least 15 centimetres. There is still open water on the large lake several kilometres out. The lake is 28 kilometres long.
“We do not monitor wild ice,” said Mulchinock.