The gates to Golden Ears park are locked after 5 p.m. during winter.

Newcomer to Golden Ears park doesn’t like the locked in feeling

Paul Fremes worries about blocked access for emergency services.

Paul Fremes likes camping and Golden Ears Provincial Park, he just doesn’t like the feeling of being locked up while he enjoys the great outdoors.

The winter policy of locking the main gates to the park at 5:30 p.m., barring entry or exit until 8 a.m., worries him as a winter camper.

He found out about it first-hand during a recent stay at Gold Creek campground.

“We were locked in. Even if you had an SUV, there’s no way you’re getting out of there.”

Fremes, a Vancouver resident, understands the intent is to save money by reducing staff time and vandalism, but says it’s a policy that eventually “is going to blow up in their face.”

Sooner or later, somebody will die of a heart attack or smoke inhalation, he adds.

The main park gate in Maple Ridge has a call button that will alert one of three caretakers in the area to open the gate, which could take 15 or 20 minutes.

That’s still longer than it would take if a camper could unlock the gate and get to where he or she needed to go.

“Imagine if a fire came along and blocked the access out of there. If it was a forest fire, they may not be able to get to you. Whereas, if you were able to come and go you’d have a better chance of escape.”

He points out that a business such as a nightclub would be instantly closed if it operated with a blocked fire escape.

Instead, Fremes suggests the small number campers who stay at the park during the winter be able to leave a deposit for a “do not copy” key, which they would recover when they depart. Or pass cards, which expire after checkout time, could be used to unlock the gate, as is the practice in hotels.

“One way or the other, there are solutions.”

Fremes said it’s the first time he stayed in Golden Ears and said it was fantasitic. It’s only an hour from Vancouver, but when you’re there, “It’s like being in the middle of nowhere.”

Stu Burgess, with SSG Holdings, which operates the front-country facilities for B.C. Parks, said the policy’s been in place since 2000, from Thanksgiving Day to March 31, and is clearly posted at the entrance.

“People can make the choice about whether they want to be in that situation or not,” he said.

The policy attempts to save staff time and prevent vandalism.

“There just is no budget for having staff around.”

He’s received a few complaints over the years and said people concerned about suffering a medical emergency don’t enter.

Three people who live in the area are on call to answer the emergency button at the main gate and can get there and open it within 15 to 20 minutes. The most common call is from hikers who get stuck in the park after hours.

The risk of a forest fire is low during that time of year, he added.

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