Wood Buffalo National Park’s North and South Loops, aptly named for their locations either side of Pine Lake Road, will get new names and infrastructure as the park receives long-awaited upgrades this summer.

“They were not very interesting names,” admitted Parks Canada spokesperson Melissa Zimmer, who revealed the two hiking trails will now be known as the Benchmark Creek Trail (South Loop) and the Salt Pan Lake Trail (North Loop) to reflect features found along the trails.

More importantly, the trails are getting new boardwalks, bridges, and much-needed signage to direct hikers through their 8.5 km and 7 km loops.  

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Zimmer, the park’s product development officer, said all of the park’s trails are being cleared and brushed of fallen trees and encroaching plants. Some trails, like the aforementioned loops, the Lakeside Trail (3 km), and the Lane Lake Trail (6.5 km) at Pine Lake, will receive minor work, while more complex trails will require more significant renovations.

The Karstland Trail (750 m), home to Canada’s northernmost red-sided garter snake colony, and the Salt Plains Access Trail, which leads to the Salt Plains from Highway 5, will be resurfaced and widened. These two shorter trails receive the park’s biggest improvements of the summer, including new stonework, boardwalks, and benches.

‘In need of repair’

All trails will soon boast new signage, including maps with safety and wildlife information at the trail heads, and directional signage throughout the hikes.

Yellowknife contractor Rev North has been brought in to do the work, which the park hopes will be completed by midsummer. Work on the Salt Plains Access Trail is complete except for new signage, and the Karstland Trail and Salt River Meadows Trail (3 km) are currently closed for construction.

Zimmer says hikers can still access other trails throughout the park, as long as signage doesn’t indicate otherwise.

“We picked our trails [to allocate funding toward] because they were in need of quite a lot of repair, especially with trees coming down all of the time,” said Zimmer, explaining how the park chose to spend its portion of the $3 billion investment Parks Canada announced last year. That funding supports infrastructure projects related to heritage, visitor, waterway, and highway assets across the country.

The goal of the work, she explained, is to “improve visitors’ experiences so that they have an opportunity to connect with places more than they have before.”

The park has also completed renovations on two former patrol cabins at Pine Lake, complete with flushing toilets and Parks Canada’s signature red chairs.