How tourist favourite Banff stays green despite crowds
Banff, a thickly forested tourist destination in Canada, remains eco-friendly despite tourists crowding the place.
by Kalpana Sunder
“You'll see wildlife in and around the town site -
but for your safety and theirs, keep your distance.
The wildlife here is truly wild.”
Driving towards Banff, on the Trans- Canadian Highway in Western Canada, we pass two unusual tree covered overpasses. They cost millions of dollars each and are meant for use not by people, but the wildlife here. Usually the bigger animals like grizzlies and moose use this to cross. There is also a network of underpasses all along the highway, that animals like the cougar and black bear use.
A network of underpasses, overpasses and fencing has reduced wildlife road kills by 80%! Banff is a town that is inside a National Park. Mary Morrison, Travel media Relations, Banff Lake Louise Tourism says,” We live in a National park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so we have to consider the environmental impact of all our decisions.” The town has the famous ‘need to reside’ law which means that one can take up permanent residence here only if, he or she has employment here.
Banff, the highest town in Canada at an elevation of 4,540 feet, and with a population of just around 8000, gets over four million visitors a year! In spite of this tourist onslaught, the town still retains a certain Alpine outdoorsy personality, with mountain chalets and an impossibly scenic setting of rugged mountains.
A walk by the Bow River, the longest river in the National Park or a canoe ride, is the most relaxing thing to do here. The town has stunning views of Mount Rundle and Norquay with glacial capes, and Banff Avenue is filled with designer shops, cafes and shops selling equipment for climbers and hikers. In a town with so many trees and trails, it’s usual to spot an animal or two as you walk along the streets, which are by the way named after animals (yes there are Moose, Caribou, and Wolf streets with sewer covers to match).This town seems to have a massive sweet tooth- the sweet shops sell animal- themed offerings of course: there’s ‘Bear poop’- almonds covered in chocolate and ‘bear’s paws’- paw shaped clumps of chocolates with cashews for paws! The elk overpopulation had become a problem for the town in the late 1990s, when wild elk roamed the streets, foraging for food. In the year 2000, there was a round-up of the elks and their relocation to other parks and areas.
It was in the year 1883, that three employees of the Canadian Pacific Railway, discovered steam rising from the mountains around Banff and the hot springs there. This gave rise to conflicting claims as to who had the right to develop the town. The government made it a national Park called the Rocky Mountains Park and as the railway station was near Siding 29, this was the first name of Banff town. The present name Banff is derived from Banffshire, Scotland, home to two major financiers of the Canadian Pacific Railway!
The Fairmont Banff Springs, situated above a bend in the Bow River, is one of the earliest hotels in the National Park, built in a Scottish Baronial style. There is a flower- filled traffic circle in front of the hotel, with a bronze statue of William Cornelius Van Horne, the President of the Canadian Pacific railway, who said famously, “If we can’t export the scenery, we will import the tourists!”
The hotel has an iconic 27 -hole golf course where you can play a game distracted by the awe-inspiring views, as well as the resident wildlife like bears and elks! Like every self- respecting heritage hotel, Banff Springs has famous ghosts. One is a bride who was ascending the staircase when her dress caught fire from the candles and she fell to her death. She is still seen dancing the wedding waltz. The other is Sam, a bellman who retired in the 60s but is still seen by many guests in his classic uniform, helping them with locked rooms and then disappearing in to thin air!
We take the gondola for an eight minute ride to Sulphur Mountain with the biting blast of the wind on our faces. On the top are magical panoramic views of the mountains, plaques with the town’s history and a boardwalk to the summit.
The Sanson meteorological Centre on top is named after the weathermen who climbed the mountain everyday for more than 40 years, even in deep snowdrifts and adverse winter conditions. Below the hotel is the raging Bow falls, more famous as the spot where Marilyn Monroe fell in the movie, the ‘River of no Return’.
The local transit system called ROAM, has energy- efficient, bio- diesel and electric buses with striking images of grizzly bears, mountain goats and elks on the facade. The town’s 8000 plus residents lease land, but cannot own it. The town has an Environmental Stewardship program, which makes efficient use of recourses, generates least waste and tries to live within its natural resource supply.
Many of the public restrooms are solar powered and the street lights are energy saving LED. The town’s residents have taken advantage of the town’s rebate programs and installed water saving toilets, energy star dishwashers and rain barrels.
Many of the local restaurants serve organic, sustainable menus and have locally sourced options. The Banff-Lake Louise area has the highest density of hotels that have been rated eco-friendly with the ‘green leaf’ rating. Most of these hotels recycle their linen and towels, have organic food on their menus and use innovative air conditioning systems. Tourism can be eco-friendly and sustainable, as Banff amply demonstrates.
Kalpana Sunder talks about her Bordeaux experience which was much like tasting the Cabernets, Semillons and Merlots: ripe with rich experiences and a languid finish that kept her wanting more.
The Zanskar river, home to river rafting in the summer, transforms into a frozen ice sheet in the winter called Chadar (meaning sheet in Hindi), providing an alternate route for the Zanskaris when all the high passes are blocked by snow.
Here's a list of the top ten tourist destinations of 2013.