In recent years, Joffre Lakes Provincial Park has become incredibly busy. There are a number of theories for why this has happened. Some people point to the 41% growth in tourism industry revenue in the province between 2007 and 2017. Others point to the impact that social media has on making locations go viral if they are photogenic and reasonably easy to access. Longtime visitors point out that the trail was recently upgraded to smooth over the treacherous boulder field and rerouted to include an additional stop at scenic waterfall and that has made the trail attractive to a much larger audience. Finally, some people point out that there are a lot of visitors who want to visit wild places but feel safer when there are crowds around and this can lead to a snowball effect.
I don’t think we’ll be able to unravel the impact of all of the drivers. No matter the cause, Joffre Lakes Provincial Park saw over 170,000 visitors last year. On a provincial level, Destination BC has a target of increasing tourism revenue by 5%/year. When combined with local population growth I think it’s obvious that the pressure is only going to increase over time.
BC Parks is now engaging in a process to develop a visitor-use management strategy. It’s clear that some changes are needed. If the park is going to see 170,000 or more visitors in 2019 then additional parking or shuttle buses will need to be introduced. In 2018, overflow parking along the highway resulted in safety concerns being raised by the public, BC Parks and the RCMP. Other options that are on the table would result in a reduction in visitor numbers through the use of permits or access fees.
I am concerned about unintended consequences and I want to briefly discuss two areas to watch:
1) Impacts to the mountaineering community
The area beyond Upper Joffre Lake has long been used by the people engaged in scrambling and mountaineering. Any attempts to manage the majority of the crowds that are sticking to the main hiking trail may inadvertently impact these other user groups. I am particularly concerned about the potential for any type of a day-permit system that may result in scrambling and mountaineering groups travelling on the date on which they were able to get a permit instead of choosing a travel date based on weather conditions. We are a relatively small user group and it would be easy for our concerns to be go unnoticed if we do not actively participate in the process.
2) Impacts of diverted crowds on more sensitive areas
Unless visitation were to drop extremely dramatically, the chances of mountain goats or grizzly bears occupying the core area around the Joffre Lakes Trail is slim to none. In a similar vein, the environment directly adjacent to the Joffre Lakes trail is generally fairly robust (boulders, etc.) and the upgrades to the trail, multiple outhouses, ranger presence and campfire ban help to ensure that the area can continue to be enjoyed by future generations. The same can not be said of any of the areas where crowds may be diverted to if measures are put in place to limit visitation at Joffre Lakes. Keyhole Hotsprings now operates with a seasonal closure after grizzly bears became habituated to human food. Semaphore Lakes is seeing increasing damage with each passing summer. The nearest alternative trails on the Duffey Lake Highway all lack outhouses. If we are going to divert visitors from Joffre Lakes, we must upgrade the alternative locations that will be visited instead.
I encourage all members of the FMCBC to get engaged in the consultation regarding the visitor-use management strategy of Joffre Lakes Provincial Park.