By Kelsey Verboom
Rapidly rising waters in Kootenay National Park this month have caused significant damage to four of the park’s bridges, almost entirely washing away three.
The flooding events are unprecedented in recent years, said Marc Ledwidge, head of Parks Canada’s Visitor Safety Program in Kootenay, Yoho and Banff national parks.
“Anecdotally, in my 31 years in the area, I’ve never seen or experienced high water levels or flood conditions of that magnitude before.”
At a popular stop along Highway 93, about 85 kilometres from Radium, the pedestrian bridge at the Paint Pots was swept from its footings and folded in half when high waters and large floating debris smashed into its centre.
The $200,000 bridge had been newly refurbished and was installed over the Vermillion River only recently.
It is currently mangled but still caught in the churning, muddied waters. Parks crews are waiting for the Vermillion River’s water levels to decrease so they can extract the wreckage and assess the damage, with hopes of salvaging the bridge.
Elsewhere in the park, a footbridge over Stanley Creek at the Stanley Glacier trailhead was inundated with flood water and washed away, although crews were able to recover the structure. It will be reinstalled when water levels subside, said Omar McDadi, a communications officer for Parks Canada.
The footbridge over the Kootenay River at the Dog Lake trail, near the McLeod Meadows campground area, also received significant damage, when raging waters ripped it from its position over the river.
Additionally, a vehicle bridge at the entrance to the Marble Canyon campground (near the Paint Pots) narrowly averted disaster when crews successfully performed an emergency excavation to save the bridge.
The unusually high water levels stemmed partly from heavy rainfall on June 5th and 6th, which overwhelmed the already-full waterways, Mr. McDadi said. Kootenay, Banff, and Yoho parks experienced 80-100 mm of rain within 48 hours.
The park experienced more rainfall from June 22nd-27th, when unrelenting rain wreaked havoc across the B.C. Interior, causing some areas to the south of the valley to declare states of emergency.
This concentrated period of rainfall combined with melting snowpack from a season that reached record-breaking snowfall in areas close to the bridge washouts.
Lake Louise Ski Resort and Sunshine Village, just a valley away, both broke all-time snowfall records. At Sunshine, the resort received 1,007 centimetres of snow — the equivalent of a school bus standing on end.
“It was a really significant event that we don’t encounter every year. It was sort of the perfect storm of conditions,” Mr. McDadi said of the washouts. Because of the rapidly rising waters, parks initiated its incident command, rallying together with the local RCMP and fire departments to be prepared for the worst-case scenario.
As of June 27th, the Paint Pots pedestrian bridge remained closed, although hikers can access the Paint Pots via a 3.2-kilometre detour through the Marble Canyon trail. The Stanley Glacier and Dog Leg trails were also closed, and the Marble Canyon bridge and campground were temporarily shut, but were expected to open on June 29th, barring more rainfall.
For the latest updates, go to www.pc.ga.ca/kootenay.