The NWT government late on Good Friday announced it will suspend the opening of territorial parks facilities until further notice.
The territory’s campground reservations system was due to open on April 15. Parks across the NWT were set to begin opening from May 15 onward.
In a news release, the Department of Industry, Tourism, and Investment – which controls the NWT’s parks – said their opening would be postponed.
“An opening date for the 2020 park season has not been confirmed at this time,” the news release stated.
“The decision supports territory-wide efforts to contain the spread of the Covid-19 virus in the Northwest Territories. It follows examples set by Parks Canada and other jurisdictions.
“The Government of the Northwest Territories’ online reservation system will also remain closed until further notice.”
Katrina Nokleby, the tourism minister, said her government understood families were “eager to get outside” after pandemic-related restrictions cut off many other activities.
“I can assure you this decision was not made lightly but, ultimately, the health and safety of our guests, staff, and contractors is our top priority,” Nokleby said in prepared remarks.
“We look forward to the opening of our parks season at a later date.”
The announcement means building and facilities won’t open on time, but residents can still use walking trails inside the parks.
“Please maintain social distancing and, if you are walking a dog, please clean up after them,” the territorial government urged people choosing to use the trails.
Other parks, like those in British Columbia, had already banned camping until at least the end of May.
“I would be very surprised if we actually do open our parks on time,” Tom Colosimo, regional superintendent for the South Slave, had told Hay River town councillors earlier in the week.
“It’s April now, can we open May 15? I don’t know what that’ll mean.”
Colosimo said the main consideration was how to keep both members of the public and staff safe.
“We do realize that people need to get out, need to walk and if we close our parks, close all the sites, people are just going to go anyway,” he said.
“So how can we do that – implement programs, signage, some supervision that is safe – [so] we’re not doing things that cause people to not be safe?”
Colosimo noted that Parks Canada has already closed any areas where people might congregate, like picnic tables, encouraging people instead to use open spaces where physical distancing is easier.
In its statement last week, the territory’s Department of Industry, Tourism, and Investment (ITI) – which controls parks – said it supported “healthy outdoor activities with appropriate social distancing” but acknowledged contact between people needed to be limited, even outdoors.