Joffre Lakes Provincial Park. Photo: Black Press Media

Joffre Lakes Provincial Park. Photo: Black Press Media

BC Parks roll out new plans for 2021

Changes include extending the booking time to 7 a.m. the day prior to arrival to help with planning.

BC Parks laid out its plans to accommodate the growing demand for park access, but it didn’t quite meet the Outdoor Recreation Council of BC’s priorities.

In an effort to address the surge in visitors in five of the province’s most popular parks, new and revised initiatives are being introduced this season as part of the continued free day-use pass pilot program.

“People in B.C. love the outdoors. For many of us, it’s an important part of who we are,” said George Heyman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. “The pilot program, as part of a comprehensive strategy, protects nature and improves managed access to parks and trails. These changes will improve visitor planning and experience while keeping our parks spectacular for years to come.”

Beginning June 22, BC Parks will open Joffre Lakes Provincial Park under the new visitor use management strategy, which includes free day-use passes and continuing the Ske’l7awlh Stewards Program.

In addition, free day-use passes for Mount Robson Park (Berg Lake Trail), Stawamus Chief Park (Chief Parks Backside Trail), Garibaldi Park (trailheads at Diamond Head, Rubble Creek and Cheakamus) and Golden Ears Park are also included.

The Outdoor Recreation Council (ORC) says that while they are pleased with some of the plans that were released today, they are concerned that too little is being done to resolve the real systemic issues – a growing population that loves the outdoors and a chronic lack of investment in expanding and maintaining trails and outdoor recreation infrastructure in southwestern BC to make space for visitors.

“After a long period of under-investment, it is obvious that the demand for access to trails in parts of BC is currently outstripping supply,” said Louise Pederson, ORC executive director. “The BC Government recently announced a historic increase in funding for BC Parks, which was very welcome news. It is important that the increased funding is used to help accommodate the growing number of park visitors so that the day pass program can be phased out in the coming years as trail and day-use area infrastructure catches up with demand.”

Pedersen was glad to see that two of the Lower Mainland’s most popular provincial parks, Seymour and Cypress, were reopened, as both have well-developed and extensive trail systems. Their closure last year put excessive pressure on other trails in North and West Vancouver.

ORC was also pleased that the BC Parks Foundation will introduce more than 30 full-time discover parks ambassadors to welcome visitors and provide information about safe and responsible recreation.

“With that being said, we do remain concerned about the day-use pass pilot and the role that it may play in BC Park’s future visitor management, and we encourage BC Parks to consult with key stakeholders and rely on research, best practices and a systems approach to guide visitor management planning.”

For the parks included in the summer pilot, the number of passes available each day will be adjusted to accommodate as many visitors as possible.

Changes include extending the booking time to 7 a.m. the day prior to arrival to help with planning. Youth will not require a pass when accompanied by a parent or guardian with a pass.

Opening Joffre Lakes Park reflects the leadership and contribution of the Lil’wat and N’Quatqua Nations. The collaborative visitor use management strategy is a first for BC Parks and demonstrates a commitment to managing parks for a high-quality visitor experience, protecting Indigenous cultural values and the natural environment.

“Including Indigenous knowledge and conservation values requires a consultative and adaptive approach, which means listening,” said Kelly Greene, Parliamentary Secretary for Environment. “I want to thank everyone who provided feedback to make this season more enriching and respectful of the special places we cherish.”

As more people discover the value of spending time in nature, balancing recreation with protection of the environment is a common challenge for many jurisdictions.

“We are seeing recreational demand grow exponentially in park systems across Canada,” said Dawn Carr, executive director, Canadian Parks Council. “While it’s wonderful to see the public appreciation for parks and outdoor recreation, this is creating real environmental pressures and posing park management challenges for all jurisdictions.

“B.C. is in the forefront of trying to tackle these challenges and deserves credit for its innovative and responsive approach.”

Under the pilot program, park rangers noted a reduction in littering and attractants, resulting in no human-wildlife conflicts in Garibaldi Park for the first time in several years.

To understand the impacts of recreational activities on wildlife, a multi-year UBC study is using motion-triggered cameras to capture images of wildlife in provincial parks, including Garibaldi and Joffre Lakes.

“One of the real challenges is to navigate this dual mandate of providing important recreation opportunities to people while also protecting the biodiversity that depends on these parks,” said study lead Cole Burton, assistant professor, UBC’s department of forest resources management.

BC Parks will be evaluating the second phase of the day-use pass pilot program to inform future decisions and approaches for day passes in provincial parks.

BC Parks