Overcrowded provincial parks cause road safety and COVID-19 concerns

By Chloe Gerrard

This year’s quick spring melt cleared most provincial parks of any signs of winter by mid-March./CHLOE GERRARD

Many Winnipeggers are escaping the city and heading to provincial parks this spring as the city heads into its second COVID-19 summer.

Kerry Davies, the president of the Whiteshell Cottagers Association, says the number of park visitors has tripled from previous years. 

“I wouldn’t call it overcrowding – everyone is welcome. Whiteshell Provincial Park is huge with so much to offer,” Davies said. 

While people are spending more time outdoors this spring, many are still cautious about the pandemic.

“I love to be outdoors as much as possible, just not with lots of people,” said Casey Johnson, a photography student at Red River College.

The issue of overcrowding in the parks is not only a COVID-19 safety concern, but also a road safety concern. The Whiteshell Cottagers Association works alongside Manitoba Parks to sort out any issues in the park.

“When the Whiteshell Cottagers Association brought the safety concern up, [Manitoba Parks] responded almost instantly with a communications campaign, and increased patrols of these areas,” said Davies.

On March 12, Manitoba Parks made a Facebook post warning people of the busy parking lots at the trailheads in the Whiteshell Provincial Park. They suggested people look for trails with less people. 

Overcrowded parking lots leave people to park on both sides of the road, narrowing the highways. Davies said there are no real shoulders on these highways, so parked cars make the lanes much smaller.

Some visitors are annoyed that a long drive to a trailhead might end up in an overcrowded parking lot, but other people understand the safety concerns.

“It would be frustrating, but I would fully understand and not want to be around a bunch of people,” said Johnson.

Davies said most cottage owners are not bothered with the increased activity in provincial parks, but some say they’re concerned that trail users are parking in front of their properties.

Davies said Manitoba Parks responded by posting more signage in these areas and cleared bush to expand the parking lots. 

“[Manitoba] Parks is also planning to expand the parking lots in many cases and/or create secondary parking lots nearby,” said Davies.

Manitoba Parks will have to wait for the spring road restrictions that protect paved surfaces to lift before any further changes can be made.