$23 million for B.C. parks

Expansion to Golden Ears ‘makes sense’ and should be a strong consideration.

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The operator of Golden Ears is hoping for campsite expansion, after the province announced it will invest $22.9 million into B.C.’s parks over the next five years.

The funds will help create 1,900 new campsites, a new $5-million parks foundation and a yet unspecified number of new rangers in parks across the province.

More than 800 campsites will be built in provincial parks, with more than 1,000 others in recreation sites, on top of 10,700 existing campsites, in areas of highest demand. So far, government has not said where the campground expansion would take place.

But Golden Ears should be a strong consideration, because it is busy, and there is lots of room, said Stu Burgess, manager of park operator SSG Environmental.

“I would thing there’s lots of places in Golden Ears where you could put a new campground.”

In 2014/2015, the park saw camping rise 12 per cent, up to more than 120,000 visitors, and day use was up 14 per cent to $680,000 visitors, for a total of 800,000 visitors on the year.

The only parks with more visitors were Manning (980,000), Cultus Lake (908,000), Cypress (930,000). Both Manning and Cypress attract many visitors for the ski hills.

The recent announcement has followed a chorus of criticism about campsites being snapped up the second bookings opened and of scalpers reselling them for profit. Forty-six such incidents were reported to B.C. Parks last year.

Earlier in November, the province announced it would eliminate opening day reservations to avoid delays and crashes in the online Discover Camping booking system.

Campers will now be able to book their campsite four months ahead of their desired camp date.

Burgess said the province’s announcement of park expansion should be welcomed by people who have been frustrated in trying to get a campsite in recent years.

“It’s very good news that there’s going to be more opportunities to get out camping.”

And he said the changes to reservations will “make the system more fair an equitable for everybody.”

Ric Careless, chair of Campaign for B.C. Parks, said the money would go a long way into rejuvenating the province’s 13.5-million hectares of parkland – the third largest system in North America and the sixth largest in the world.

“Especially in a time of climate change, B.C.’s parks are living parks. They’re living sanctuaries for ancient forests and wildlife and endangered species,” Careless added. “They’re the ultimate adventure playground, where every year we see 20 million people coming to our parks.”

B.C.’s parks generate more than $400 million to the gross domestic product.

“For every dollar that this government invests, $8 comes back to the province,” said Careless.

The new funding will be concentrated in the province’s most in-demand parks – in the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island, the Kootenays and the Okanagan, said Clark, but added that it would make its way to all parts of B.C.