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A nearly deserted main street of Banff, Alberta, April 13, 2020.Todd Korol/The Globe and Mail

Parks Canada will allow a limited reopening of day-use facilities at national parks across the country on June 1, but camping won’t be available until at least three weeks later.

Citing the risk of COVID-19 transmission, Parks Canada started shutting down services and access to national parks in mid-March.

However, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday “getting fresh air is important” to Canadians, and his government is now able to move toward the careful reopening of some parks. “As of the beginning of June, some national parks will be partially reopening so that people in the area can use trails and green spaces, where physical distancing is possible.”

As difficult as that might be for Canadians itching to get outside as the weather warms, the federal government is also making a special entreaty to stay away from the national parks this Victoria Day weekend. “For their own safety, Canadians should not try to access locations that are closed,” a government news release said.

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Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said he felt he had to say something about the timeline for parks reopening before the May long weekend, as that is the time many Canadians tend to think about getting out to hike or camp.

“As we head into spring and then into summer, everybody recognizes that there is a need to ensure that people have places they can go where they can physically distance,” he said. “But we’re not opening everything.”

Parks Canada, a government agency, will resume some operations starting June 1 at national parks, historic sites, marine conservation areas and wildlife areas. Mr. Wilkinson noted the openings will be limited to trails, some boat launches and some of the day-use areas and washrooms.

The minister is “hopeful” overnight camping can restart on Sunday, June 21.

He said there’s a lot of work that goes into ensuring parks can safely be reopened, for staff and visitors. Parks employees need to be able to mobilize on site, and have proper PPE supplies.

Not every park will immediately reopen. The Prime Minister noted Arctic parks won’t be reopening any time soon, and his government will release more details about specific parks in the coming weeks.

Mr. Wilkinson added that communities close to parks, such as the Alberta towns of Banff and Jasper, as well as Indigenous communities that co-manage sites with Parks Canada, are being consulted in the process.

Mr. Wilkinson noted the Haida Nation doesn’t want a reopening of Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, in the southern part of Haida Gwaii, the remote archipelago 130 kilometres off British Columbia’s north coast.

“There are some, like those, that have said they do not wish to open the park. And in those cases, the park will not open,” the minister said. “It is something we will have to be very thoughtful and cognizant of.”

Some provincial parks will be reopened more quickly. The provinces of British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan, for instance, are all opening some overnight camping at their provincial parks on June 1.

Ontario started opening provincial parks and conservation reserves for some day-use access last weekend, and Premier Doug Ford said Thursday that private parks and campgrounds can open on Saturday to prepare for the summer season, and to allow access for some trailers and recreational vehicles. But there’s no timeline yet for reopening of Ontario provincial park camping.

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