Where will they park?

Pukaskwa National Park

By Amy Mackie

If there is one thing we learned at Pukaskwa National Park as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that people really like to get outside. During the 2021 and 2022 operating seasons, staff welcomed the highest number of visitors in the park’s history. On paper, that is exciting; in practice, it was a challenge.

Demand during the shortened 2020 season was a bit overwhelming – more than 12,000 visitors came to the park from June to mid-October. For context, the average from the six years prior to 2020 was 9,300 visitors per season (May to October). It was clear that staff needed to rethink some operations in order to keep things running smoothly – but the realities of operating during a pandemic meant things rarely went smoothly.

Furthermore, in 2020 and 2021, extra cleaning and disinfection standards were implemented. To allow the Assets Team time to do the extra cleaning, some amenities – like shower facilities – were closed. This was a big change. But with help from External Relations, the Visitor Experience team was able to let visitors know what to expect before they arrived. As the summer went on, more and more things opened up, but the carloads of visitors kept coming.

This presented a problem that had rarely been seen in the past: where were people going to park? Park staff came up with creative ideas which have formed the basis for a formal Parking Plan. Everyone knew where to send visitors to park and what to do when every spot was full.

With so many people coming to the kiosk, staff recognized the need to get people processed more quickly. Over the winter of 2020-21, the Visitor Services team worked hard to develop a Virtual Backcountry Orientation. With this in place, backcountry visitors – both hikers and paddlers – could complete their orientation before arriving at the park. It might seem like a small thing, but it saved each backcountry group 45 minutes at check-in. Staff could shift their focus to letting people know about the current status of the trail and have more time to serve other visitors.

By the start of the 2021 season, the new Parking Plan and Virtual Backcountry Orientations were in use, and by the end of the season, staff had welcomed more than 18,000 visitors to Pukaskwa National Park. That’s double our average pre-COVID visitation!

In the spring of 2022, the Trail Information Management System (TIMS) was launched on the Pukaskwa website. Using information from visitors and staff, anyone can now check the trail conditions, fire hazard, and even parking lot capacity before they get to the park. By the end of the 2022 season, more than 17,000 people visited, many checking TIMS before they arrived.

The past three years have been extraordinary on many levels. For the staff of Pukaskwa National Park, it has meant evaluating how things can be done more efficiently, both for staff and visitors. As stressful as it was at times, we love seeing visitors experience the wilderness; and every year staff is better prepared to help.


Back to shoreLINES

Date modified :