The Outdoor Recreation Council of B.C. says the province continues to invest too little in BC Parks, compared with public demand. (Special to The News)

The Outdoor Recreation Council of B.C. says the province continues to invest too little in BC Parks, compared with public demand. (Special to The News)

Outdoor rec group decries parks funding

Golden Ears Park packed by record numbers of visitors

Golden Ears and other provincial parks in the Lower Mainland were already full when the COVID-19 pandemic brought an even greater influx of parks users.

The result has been complaints that it is difficult to book a campsite online, and now people must register, for the first time last year, for visits to the day use areas and trails in Golden Ears.

Despite a government announcement of more funding, the Outdoor Recreation Council of B.C. said last week 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.

The group is concerned about the day-use pass pilot and the role it may play in the future, said Louise Pedersen, executive director of the council.

“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,” she said. “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.”

Maple Ridge resident Dave Wharton is a director on the council, and the rep for the Federation of Mountain Clubs of B.C.

“There will be gridlock on Fern Crescent every weekend from now until Labour Day,” he said, and noted the past 15 months have “really brought many of these issues into focus, as people are trying to get outside.”

June of 2020 saw 50,000 vehicles enter Golden Ears park, which blew away the old monthly record of 42,000. One Sunday saw 3,750 vehicles enter the park on its busiest day ever, and the gate was closed from noon to 4 p.m. The line of traffic into the park stretched for four kilometers. The campgrounds were sold out all summer.

READ ALSO: Record numbers flock to Golden Ears Provincial Park

It’s going to be the same story this summer, as already 7,500 vehicles rolled into the park for the May 15/16 weekend.

Wharton said B.C. has historically under-funded parks, and it’s not a political issue – the parks have been equally neglected by all parties.

“We’ve been lobbying hard, for years, for more parks funding,” said Wharton.

He said the government has announced $83 million in new funding, but more than half will be used up to provide 300 fully serviced RV sites, which are expensive.

“It’s a wonderful first step, but it’s not the fix that’s needed,” said Wharton.

Rather than cater to the RV crowd, the money would go further with basic campsites, infrastructure such as more parking at picnic areas and trail heads, and even better information for parks users. He noted the BC Parks trail maps haven’t been updated in decades.

“BC Parks really doesn’t identify trails in a comprehensive way that are available to the public,” he said.

And, he said, other parks could be further developed – such as Pinecone Burke Provincial Park on the Western Shore of Pitt Lake – to take pressure off Golden Ears and other crowded parks.

“Pinecone Burke is a large protected area of land, but since 1995 nothing has been done,” noted Wharton.

READ ALSO: 71% of B.C. men say they’d prefer to go camping with Trudeau: survey

Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows MLA Lisa Beare said the government has made a large investment, announcing in March that the BC Parks budget would be increased by $83 million over three years. This is in addition to a $5 million dollar investment through Stronger BC in September for 24 provincial parks.

These extra funds will contribute to maintenance, making trails more accessible, hiring staff and more, she said.

“During the pandemic, many people took the opportunity to explore or rediscover nature and visited BC Parks in record numbers,” said Beare. “We know how important the outdoors and provincial parks are to our lifestyles, and we are committed to encouraging folks to take advantage of these offerings, while also protecting nature.

“The free BC Parks day pass ensures that we are not over-crowding parks, keeping people and nature safe. There have been some changes to the program since last year, like the ability to book 24 hours in advance and increased availability of passes.”

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