Parks Canada has confirmed the winter road connecting Fort Smith and Fort Chipewyan through Wood Buffalo National Park will not be built this year.
Ordinarily, a winter road stretching south from Moose Island – inside the park – allows traffic to flow between Fort Smith in the NWT and the northern Alberta community of Fort Chipewyan.
In a news release, Parks Canada said the decision not to open the road this year came after “concerns related to the possible spread of Covid-19 were clearly expressed” by people on both sides of the border.
“Parks Canada appreciates the perspectives on this issue brought forward by the community and the role of the winter road in connecting our communities. However, the need to support local public health orders and respect community concern is our top priority at this time,” a statement from the federal agency read.
Parks Canada said if the usual winter road was built, the NWT government planned to remove special exemptions on travel restrictions for residents of Fort Fitzgerald and Smith’s Landing First Nation.
Almost all travellers entering the NWT are currently required to carry out a mandatory two-week period of isolation, including anyone arriving from Fort Chipewyan. The NWT government’s exemptions, however, allow Alberta residents north of the Peace River – like those from Fort Fitzgerald and Smith’s Landing – to access essential services in Fort Smith without isolating.
“If the usual through-road were constructed to Fort Chipewyan, the GNWT has advised that the special exemptions would end,” said Parks Canada.
“After careful discussion with all affected community partners, Parks Canada made the decision to suspend the through winter road this year.”
A winter road south from Fort Chipewyan to Fort McMurray will operate as usual. That road had been scheduled to open on Tuesday, but recent warm weather was said to have delayed work.
“This corridor provides Fort Chipewyan residents access to groceries, supplies and other essential services. Parks Canada can open the Fort Smith-Fort Chipewyan winter road as an emergency supply line if necessary,” Parks Canada’s statement concluded.