By Steve Hubrecht
Kootenay National Park will soon have a brand new west entrance gate.
The national park stretches from the edge of the village of Radium Hot Springs up to the borders of Yoho and Banff National parks. Those heading into Kootenay National Park from the southwest via Radium — as a great many visitors do — pass through what is surely one of the most iconic entrances to a national park anywhere in Canada: leaving the village, they arrive at the current national park west gate, then squeeze through the dramatically narrow defile of Sinclair Canyon, zip by the fabled Radium hot pools, get a glimpse of the remarkable Red Rock Fault, then ascend up to Olive Lake. Talk about an eye-catching first impression.
That first impression will become even better later this summer (an exact date has not yet been set), when Parks Canada officially closes the current west gate and opens its brand new west gate. The $1.66 million dollar project has been in the works for six years and aims to improve traffic flow (and in the process make things safer) on the stretch of Highway 93 extending from the Radium roundabout up into the national park.
Parks Canada Lake Louise-Yoho-Kootenay field unit acting visitor services manager Julie Champagne explained to the Pioneer that the current west gate has a bypass lane that is relatively small and narrow, which results in backups and long lines of traffic, and this has the potential to affect safety.
The new gate is being built in a different location, moving from the current spot between the village and Sinclair Canyon to a place past the Radium hot pools, just off southern side of the highway, opposite the flaming ochre wall of the Red Rock Fault.
Putting the gate off the highway will greatly relieve congestion, outlined Champagne. Having it located ‘after’ the hot pools is fine too, she added, since visitors who want only a dip in the thermal waters do not need to buy national park passes.
Planning for the new gate started in 2016 and a detailed design concept was completed by 2020, but the start of construction was delayed because of COVID-19 and because of the ongoing spring and fall Kicking Horse Canyon closures on the Trans Canada Highway (and subsequent rerouting of all cross country traffic down Highway 93 into Radium and then up to Golden).
“Those were big factors as to why the timeline was extended,” said Champagne. “But we’re almost there now.”
The new west gate is built right over Sinclair Creek, and because of this the building has been designed so that each corner can be adjusted (“to account for any settling” said Champagne) and a culvert has been constructed underneath. “It (the culvert) was very important,” said Champagne. “It reduces barriers for aquatic species and increases connectivity.” The gate building also has been designed with Dark Sky friendly lighting.
Once it opens, the new gate will in fact be the third west entrance gate for Kootenay National Park. The first was built right next to what was then called the Radium bathhouse (now the hot pools) in the 1920s. The second gate (which is the current gate) was built in 1956, much closer to what is now the village of Radium Hot Springs.