Keji’s visitor services will close after the Thanksgiving weekend.
People will still be able to use the park all winter but for day activities only—sunrise to sunset.
From November to April there will be no road access to the park past Mill Falls.
Visitor services and overnight camping won’t reopen until the Victoria Day long weekend next May.
Danny Harvieux of Digby has spent his whole life camping and fishing in the park.
He and his wife Wendy spent 16 nights in the park last year from mid-April until the May long weekend.
“It’s really sad we’re going to lose that time,” says Harvieux. “It’s going to cut our time in the park in half. Wendy is so busy in the summer with work; it is much easier to get away in the spring and fall.”
Harvieux says many of those weekends in May the campgrounds were busy.
“I know so many groups of men who would go up for a week in May just to fish, and now that is all over,” says Harvieux. “I used to do a lot of fishing here but now, by the time they open, the best fishing is going to be done.”
Greg Turner is a retired science and biology teacher in Digby. For 20 years he took groups of students to the park to canoe, hike and carry out environmental studies.
“The teachers who come after me no longer have that option,” says Turner. “The guides used to like us there in early May when they weren’t so busy. Now if the classes go that early, they won’t get the benefit of a park interpreter’s knowledge.”
Turner, who now runs an eco-tourism business in Digby, worries what the park closures will do to tourism in the area.
“This is a short-sighted decision by bureaucrats to save a little money in the short term,” says Turner. “In the long run, it’s going to hurt the economy here, it removes education and recreation opportunities which will all have a cost in the long term.”
Rod Kierstead lives less than a kilometre from the park. He goes cross-country skiing about 75 times a year—half of those in Keji.
“We were kind of spoiled,” says Kierstead. “With the winters here, when we get snow, then rain, it would freeze a crust on the snow. The groomer breaks that crust up and makes it nice soft snow.”
He says Keji is in a snowbelt.
“We have snow when there’s none in Digby or Middleton,” he says. “And people would come because they’d call the visitor information centre and they’d tell them the conditions were good.”
As far as he knows the park is the only place this side of Windsor with groomed trails.
“People are going to miss out,” says Kierstead. “They aren’t going to drive up from Yarmouth if they don’t know the conditions.
“All you hear these days is Canadians are out of shape and overweight. Yet we here we have the federal government taking us in the other direction, taking away opportunities for physical activity.”
When visitor services closes on Monday, Oct. 8, the main paved road through Keji will remain open but the side roads will close.
Park staff will close the main road into the park at Mill Falls, about 4 km from the main lake, on Thursday, Nov. 1.
Kierstead says it won’t be much use skiing from the visitor centre.
“Skiing down the road, that’s no thrill.”
The main road and the road to Jake’s Landing will open again April 1, 2013. The other side roads will open when road conditions improve.
Linda Frank, field unit supervisor for mainland Nova Scotia, says wardens will still patrol the park and scientific monitoring and research will continue.
The closures she says are the park’s contribution to reducing the country’s deficit.
“We are focussing our efforts on the busiest season so we can provide the best possible service for the most visitors,” she says.
An online petition asking the prime minister to keep the park open in the winter had almost 1,700 signatures at press time. The petition’s address is: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/675/839/922/save-national-park-historic-site-from-winter-closures/ .