Discovery Pass to help track numbers

For those who don’t already have a 2017 Discovery Pass, Parks Canada is distributing them both at the gate and in town (Jasper). The passes cover free entry into the national parks, but fees associated with camping or tours are still in place. Seen here is a train leaving the Jasper CN Train Station. / EVAN MATTHEWS

by EVAN MATTHEWS

Contrary to some rumours, entry to national parks in Canada will be free in 2017, even if a person does not have a 2017 Discovery Pass.

Discovery Passes have been available through the Federal Government’s website for some time, according to Steve Young, a media spokesperson for Parks Canada stationed in Jasper, but if visitors come to any national park, Parks Canada is giving away passes at the gates, or other local locations such as the info centre and in downtown Jasper.

“Basically, if you don’t have a pass, we’ll put one in your hand,” he says.

So if it’s free for anyone with or without the pass, why print the passes?

“It’s important Parks Canada understand how many visitors visit national parks and historic sites,” says Young.

“It’s important Parks Canada understand how many visitors visit national parks and historic sites,” – Steve Young, media spokesperson for Parks Canada (Jasper)

“By distributing passes, (Parks) will be able to anticipate and monitor visitation to better serve visitors, and make sure they have the best experience possible.

A January sunrise, taken from Marmot Basin Ski Resort in Jasper National Park. / EVAN MATTHEWS

It will also help (Parks) ensure these special places continue to be protected to the highest degree possible. For example if there was a fire or emergency it would be very helpful to have an idea of how many people are in the park at that time,” he says, though Young did not elaborate as to how pre-printing passes would help Parks Canada achieve this.

Some of the confusion surrounding the Discovery Pass is related to charges above and beyond park entry, according to Young.

For instance, if a person goes camping they still have to pay the associated camping fees, Young says.

Nationally, there have been over 1 million Discovery Passes issued to date, according to Parks Canada.

In 2016, Federal Government announced entry into all national parks would be free as part of Canada’s 150th birthday celebration, meaning there is a Discovery Pass for visitors and a Residence Pass for residents.

Volunteer wildlife guardian groups will be monitoring Maligne Lake Road, all summer long and another group up the Icefields Parkway, as extra sets of hands in case of things like breaking up wildlife jams, according to Parks. / EVAN MATTHEWS

In non-celebratory years passed, park entry is roughly $10 per person.

As a result, Young says Parks Canada is anticipating a higher volume of visitors in 2017 and Parks is doing what it can to prepare.

“We’ve done some extra hiring… We’re going to have some more people on the ground,” says Young, also noting there are volunteer wildlife guardian groups who will be monitoring Maligne Lake Road all summer long and another group up the Icefields Parkway, as extra sets of hands in case of things like breaking up wildlife jams, etc.

“We’re also stressing if people want to come (camping) in Jasper in the summer, you need to book a reservation in advance,” he says.