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Kootenay National Park

Highway 93 South Area Plan Summary

Summer 2011

Highway 93 South in Kootenay National Park © Parks Canada

(Download as a PDF, 225kb)

Highway 93 South, a 104 km, two-lane scenic highway stretching from Castle Junction to Radium Hot Springs, provides a vital transportation link between Alberta and the Columbia Valley. The road also known as the Banff-Windermere Highway was built as part of an agreement between the federal and provincial governments that established Kootenay National Park in 1920. The road was opened in 1922, becoming the first motor road to cross the central Canadian Rockies.

The Highway 93 South corridor is the main focus of visitor activity in Kootenay National Park. In accordance with direction in the Kootenay National Park Management Plan 2010 (PDF 1.8 mb), a draft area plan has been developed for the Kootenay Corridor that addresses ecological issues, visitor experience and education opportunities along Highway 93 South from the Continental Divide to Sinclair Pass. A separate area plan will be developed for the park gateway in the Radium-Sinclair Canyon area.

This newsletter provides a summary of key concepts and proposals that are contained in the draft plan. Parks Canada welcomes any comments or suggestions on this material. All input received will be carefully considered during the preparation of the final area plan.

Welcoming Visitors to Kootenay National Park

The plan proposes the development of a small new day use area on the west side of the highway to provide a sense of arrival for visitors entering the park from Alberta. This site will include welcome and orientation information, interpretive exhibits on the Banff-Windermere Highway and other park features, and photo opportunities at the British Columbia and Kootenay National Park welcome signs. [Note: Improvements to the arrivals area near Radium Hot Springs will also be important to visitor enjoyment. These improvements will be addressed in the Radium-Sinclair Canyon area plan in future years.]

Enhancing Visitor Experience

The area plan identifies a number of potential improvements intended to provide a broader range of visitor opportunities at key sites, and to address ecological and learning objectives. Proposed changes include: 

  • Relocate Sir George Simpson Monument and the Wardle Creek Picnic site to the Simpson River trailhead, where a short strolling opportunity along the river is also proposed. 
  • Decommission the Dolly Varden day use area, and create a new day use area at Crooks Meadows that will provide a trailhead for the Dolly Varden trail and new interpretive offerings on road ecology, terrestrial and aquatic habitat connectivity, and wildlife mortality mitigation efforts. Winter camping, currently provided at Dolly Varden, would no longer be offered. 
  • Relocate the McLeod Meadows picnic site and Dog Lake trailhead to the McLeod Meadows campground, where a formal river access for paddlers is also proposed. 
  • Relocate the James B. Harkin plaque to the Kootenay River day use area, where a formal river access for paddlers and a short strolling trail to the Nixon Creek aquatic restoration site are also proposed. 
  • Improve the Kootenay Crossing day use area to provide a more welcoming trailhead with greater separation from the Parks Canada operations base. The nearby exhibit on the construction history of the Banff-Windermere Highway will also be relocated to this facility.

Addressing the Ecological Effects of the Highway

Highway 93 South has had a significant impact on wildlife, with more than 400 large animals being killed by vehicles in the past decade. The plan provides for the implementation of mitigation efforts that will begin to address this issue. Initial efforts include highway fencing and the construction of wildlife underpasses in the Kootenay Valley, coupled with visitor opportunities to learn about this important issue.

The highway has also impeded fish passage on many watercourses. Aquatic restoration to address dysfunctional culverts has been undertaken at several sites and will be continued as resources permit. 

Invasive plant species have also gained a foothold along the highway corridor. Parks Canada will monitor and control the spread of high priority species, with particular emphasis on avoiding the establishment of new populations when the ground is disturbed as part of development activities.

Improving Recreational Opportunities

In recent years there has been a decline in camping, and addressing this decline is an important goal for Parks Canada. The ability to increase the level of camping service in the Kootenay corridor is limited due to the lack of electrical and water services at the two existing campgrounds. However, some enhancements, such as restoring aging infrastructure, improving shelters, installing lights in washrooms (using available generator power), and undertaking landscaping improvements will be pursued. In addition, the area plan proposes to investigate with partners the potential to host occasional “Learn to Camp” special events in order to attract new families to this traditional park activity.

The plan also identifies mountain biking and cycling as activities that can be improved in the park. Initial efforts will focus on improving the Dolly Varden trail and trailheads. Consideration will be given to establishing a short loop trail between McLeod Meadows campground and Dog Lake.

Walking and hiking are two of the most popular activities in the park. Trailhead kiosks will be upgraded in order to provide visitors with accurate information and to encourage them to take a “Step Into the Wild”.

River paddling opportunities will be supported by providing formal river access points at McLeod Meadows campground and Kootenay River day use area. Parks Canada will also canvas partners to gauge interest in publishing an updated river guide for the Vermilion and Kootenay Rivers.

Renewing Interpretive Opportunities

The existing interpretive exhibits will be reviewed and upgraded to provide a more integrated and cohesive program that allows visitors to take a learning journey as they travel the parkway. New themes of road ecology, aquatic and terrestrial habitat connectivity, and wildlife mortality mitigation will be developed to augment the existing themes of landscapes shaped by fire and water, Aboriginal heritage, European exploration and more recent human history. Kootenay Park Lodge will continue to provide visitor information services and park interpretation (pending upcoming negotiation) near the midway point of the highway. New interpretive exhibits will be installed at Crooks Meadow, Nixon Creek, and the proposed Kootenay North Welcome day use area.

Connecting With Canadians Beyond Park Boundaries

The area plan acknowledges the importance of reaching out to Canadians where they live in order to increase awareness of the park, its unique heritage, and the steps Parks Canada is taking to protect and present this important part of Canada. For people who may never visit the park, personal outreach opportunities and new media tools can be used to increase understanding of the significance of the park and its stories. Youth and urban Canadians, and in particular residents of Calgary and the Columbia Valley, are important audiences for this outreach work.

For people considering a visit, the park website can provide an important pre-trip planning tool that can help them be prepared to get the most out of their park experience. Improvements to the website will be made to increase its utility for potential visitors.

Plan Implementation

Once the plan is finalized it will be used to plan work and investments in Kootenay National Park as resources permit.

Any significant changes to physical infrastructure along the corridor must first be subjected to an environmental assessment to ensure that any environmental impacts can be mitigated. Any changes to traffic flow would first require a review by a transportation engineer to ensure compliance with public safety standards.

To provide comments, or for more information, please contact:

Todd Keith, Land Use Specialist
Parks Canada, PO Box 99, Field, BC.
telephone: 250-343-6101
email:  todd.keith@pc.gc.ca