THE NEWS/files                                People like the proximity of Golden Ears to the Vancouver area.

THE NEWS/files People like the proximity of Golden Ears to the Vancouver area.

Picnickers, boaters, campers crowd Golden Ears

Maple Ridge’s park sees busy year

People keep packing in, making this fire-infested year one of the busiest ever for Golden Ears Provincial Park.

According to Stu Burgess, with Alouette Park Management, on B.C. Day, a total of 3,050 cars, trucks, SUVs and motorcycles filed through the park gates.

On average, each vehicle contained 3.5 people.

Add the campers and the day-users together and that’s more than 10,000 people that day clamoring for campsites, jockeying for parking stalls and picking the best place to picnic.

That’s not the busiest day, however, so far this year. On the May long weekend, 3,207 vehicles came into the park in one day.

“That’s the most I’ve seen here in 23 years,” Burgess said.

That sunny day was turning point for a long, hot summer following a cold, snowy winter.

Park closures in the Interior, due to wildfires, mean more people are looking to the Lower Mainland for recreation.

For all of last July, Golden Ears, one of the province’s busiest parks, drew 55,000 day-use vehicles.

“That’s 2,000 more than we’ve had before.”

Long weekends usually see the operators close the front gates of the park, when the day-use area is at capacity.

That allows some time for people to find places to park and for others to leave and to create some more space, after which the gates are re-opened. This weekend though, they only had to close the gates for half an hour on Sunday. “Just so we didn’t get into the situation where there were too many people trying to get too few parking spots.”

All of the reserved and first-come, first-served campsites were taken, requiring people who lined up in the early mornings to turn back.

According to the most recent figures, 596,000 people visited the day-use area in Golden Ears in 2013/14, an increase of four per cent from the year before.

However, the number of campers dropped by about the same percent, to 107,00 in that period. Overall, park use has jumped 13 per cent in 2013/14 compared to the average of the preceding three years.

Burgess said the park has expanded its facilities only once in the last 40 years, adding 55 campsites at North Beach.

The park wasn’t on the list for expansion when the government, in March, announced the first phase of campsite expansion in the province with new 350 new campsites.

Golden Ears currently has 400 campsites, 300 of which are reservation only.

The forest fire danger rating in the park is currently at extreme, meaning campfires are banned while propane stoves and propane-powered fire pits are allowed, as well as briquett barbecues and white gas Coleman stoves.