The provincial government plans to spend an additional $3.6 million over the next three years to make provincial parks in the Lower Mainland area more accessible.
With the backdrop of Mount Seymour Provincial Park in North Vancouver, Environment Minister George Heyman told reporters Wednesday (March 23) that far too many people face a diverse range of barriers when it comes to feeling included, welcome and safe in B.C.’s parks.
He said the latest money complements existing funding for the provincial park system.
”Could we spend more? We could always spend more,” he said. “But this funding will match the capacity that BC Parks has over the next three years to take very significant steps to make greater access for everyone to BC Parks.”
Data from BC Parks’ annual visitor satisfaction survey in 2018 shows that people with disabilities are under-represented in the provincial park system.
About a quarter of B.C.’s population report having a disability, but only seven per cent of camping parties in 2018 had at least one person self-reporting a disability.
A 2021 study prepared by BC Parks and the Social Planning and Research Council of B.C. found that people with disabilities face “wide-ranging barriers” inside and outside of park boundaries.
Survey respondents lamented the lack of accessible paths, toilets and parking spaces – with the quality of paths being top of mind. More general barriers limiting access to provincial parks mentioned by respondents included their age, the severity of their disability and the cost of personal mobility-aids, specialized equipment and travel.
“This repeated mention of financial barriers reflects the lived experience of people with disabilities and seniors being more likely to experience poverty,” the report reads. Research also shows that lower-income people participate less in outdoor activities than those with higher incomes.
The province plans to overcome these and other types of barriers through its commitment to inclusion vision.
Heyman said a lot of work remains ahead, but added that the province is not starting from scratch.
Several parks are already undergoing accessibility upgrades and new parks and campgrounds are incorporating universal design standards, he added.
Carinna Kenigsberg, director of programs and impact for non-profit Power To Be, said in a statement that everyone benefits from spending time in nature and is made possible when access and how the park functions is more accessible.
Alex DeForge, manager of programs and Services at QMUNITY, a resource centre for 2SLGBTQIA+ community, echoed these comments in applauding BC Parks for taking steps toward creating more inclusive spaces.
“We are also grateful for the important work that’s been done consulting marginalized communities to set a path forward towards a more inclusive outdoors for Two-Spirit, queer and trans people.”