Park operators are enforcing a ban on campfires in Golden Ears.

Park operators are enforcing a ban on campfires in Golden Ears.

Golden Ears park busier than ever

Gates closed three consecutive weekends.

The long hot weather is making a season like no other at Alouette Lake.

Golden Ears Provincial Park in Maple Ridge’s backyard is the busiest manager Stu Burgess has seen.

“It’s been the busiest year on record and it continues today,” he said Tuesday.

Until this year, apart from Victoria Day long weekend, it took until the end of June before the park operator, SSG Holdings, had to turn away vehicles because of packed parking lots.

But the last three consecutive weekends park staff have had to turn around vehicles at about noon because parking stalls were all taken.

“Usually, we’re not closing the park until the last weekend in June. The vehicle counts this year are just way more than anything we’ve experienced before,” Burgess said.

On Saturday, June 6 – 2,800 vehicles came through the park gates at the east end of Fern Crescent.

The next day, 3,200 vehicles entered the park. Most of those were headed for the day-use picnic areas along Alouette Lake.

According to B.C. Parks, on average, each vehicle brings in 3.5 people – more than 11,000 people in one day.

The day-use area has 800 parking stalls and another 100 stalls for vehicles and boat trailers.

Prior to this year, the park’s busiest year was in 2009, when the Golden Ears Bridge opened. Weather was nice that year, but the bridge also helped boost numbers.

“I think what we’re seeing this year is pretty much all an effect of the weather we’re having,” said Burgess.

SSG Holdings only operates the park under contract for B.C. Parks and he hasn’t heard of any expansion plans for the park, one of the busiest in B.C. and one of the closest to Vancouver.

Expanding the parking stalls would also require expanding the washrooms, sewer and water systems. A few years ago, the water system was upgraded.

Liberal MLA Marc Dalton hasn’t heard, either, of any expansion plans, but said a new bridge over Gold Creek will open this summer.

As the heat drags on and the forest becomes drier, park operators are watching more carefully.

“Forest fires are a big worry here,” Burgess said.

If a fire started somewhere along Fern Crescent, people would be trapped in the park.

“Emergency refuge is down to the lake, everybody into the water. That is our greatest concern here.”

Fires could start from any stray spark. Operators are enforcing the ban on campfires in the campgrounds.

Burgess said the greater worry is the back country, away from the campgrounds, where conditions are bone dry.

“Fires are never allowed in the back country of Golden Ears. Never.”

A spark from a vehicle could touch off a grass fire, which could spread. Or a tossed cigarette butt or a vehicle fire on the road could spread to the forest. That happened in 2012, when one of the park’s trucks caught fire when it was hauling hot ash. By the time the fire department arrived, the fire had spread into the trees.

Burgess said the water level in the Alouette Lake reservoir, which is connected to the Stave River, is slowly dropping, while Gold Creek is also low.

According to B.C. Hydro, the Stave Lake Reservoir is at 80.8 metres, which is normal for this time of year, despite lack of rain and no remaining snow pack.

But the reservoir level is expected to drop and boaters are being warned to be careful.

As the drought continues, B.C. Hydro will reduce flows from Ruskin Dam into the Stave River in order to conserve water for the salmon spawning later in the year, said spokesperson Simi w.

Burgess said the warm weather stretching from the spring is out of the ordinary.

“Very unusual year. We’ve started seeing salmon berries ripe in April. There are vine maples tree turning red and brown already.”