One of Janelle Lane’s favourite new sights at Elk Island National Park this summer was a simple one.
The park’s Astotin Lake visitors facility is undergoing a $6.5 million rehabilitation. Some of the work is already complete, including the facility’s new washroom – Lane, a communications officer at Elk Island, has become a fan of the building’s outdoor sink.
“Instead of people going into the washroom to clean their lunch dishes, they're able to do that on the outside of the building,” she said. “A simple change like that can just change and improve your campfire or your picnic at the park."
The visitors centre remains closed while construction continues. The work should wrap up by spring, with Parks Canada expecting the changes to bring a better experience for park guests next year. The improvements also included renovations to the area’s cooking shelters and theatre, paving of some nearby trails and the addition of an upgraded boardwalk around Astotin Lake.
Funding for the projects came from a $24.2 million federal investment announced in 2016.
The park’s welcome area also got some attention, with $1.3 million put into improvements in the visitor reception area and parking lot. Another $1.5 million of the budget went to repairing and replacing boundary fences to help keep the park’s famous bison from wandering off.
Recently completed rehab work on access roads to the Tawayik day use area, bison loop and lookout, Wood Bison day use area and other parts of the park came at a cost of $11.1 million.
Staff also found room in the budget for some playground renovations that weren't originally part of the season's construction plans.
"All park programs and camping have been available during construction.” Lane said. “So it was a little bit of an interesting year for regular visitors to come and always see construction going on. But we're seeing the light at the end of the tunnel there and it's really improving visitors' experience."