Waterton Lakes National Park Reopens After Devastating Wildfire

An estimated 30 percent of the Canadian national park was severely burned by wildfire

By Dillon Tabish
Border Patrol agents launch a boat on Upper Waterton Lake before departing towards Goat Haunt on Aug. 20, 2016. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Waterton Lakes National Park and its townsite have reopened to residents and visitors after a devastating wildfire barreled through the area two weeks ago.

Parks Canada allowed residents and business owners to return to the townsite on Tuesday and clean up any ash or debris before visitors were allowed entry on Wednesday. The fire remains active but has been classified as “being held.”

The entrance road into the townsite is the only road open in the park at this time. The Chief Mountain Port of Entry has also re-opened. All other roads and areas in the park remain closed for safety reasons. Due to the high intensity of the fire, there are a large number of dangerous trees, loose rock and other hazards that remain throughout the park.

Those who are returning to Waterton are discovering a vastly different sight. The Kenow fire swept through the forested area north of Glacier National Park in early September and scorched more than 94,000 acres, including a large section of Waterton, according to fire officials.

“People will see as they do arrive in the park, the landscape has changed,” Parks Canada information officer Natalie Faye told CBC News. “The park was heavily impacted, about 30 percent of Waterton Lakes National Park, but there is still life on the landscape.”

Some businesses may be open but visitors coming to the park should be prepared with basic supplies. In the village of Waterton, visitors can access the Townsite Loop Trail, Cameron Falls and Cameron Bay Day-Use Area. Four washrooms — at the playground, Cameron Falls, Heritage and the Fire Hall — are open. Some picnic areas and shelters and the playground are also available in the village. At this time, camping is not permitted in the townsite campground, nor the Pass Creek winter campsite.

The lightning-caused fire did spare much of the townsite, including the iconic Prince of Wales Hotel, which is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year. The Parks Canada Visitor Information Centre, located on the Entrance Parkway just before the townsite of Waterton, burned down overnight and the trailhead to Bear’s Hump was also severely charred.

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