In April 2021, the BC government announced new funding of about $84M for BC Parks, spread over three years ($24.5M, $29.4M and $30M in 2021/22, 2022/23 and 2023/24 respectively). While we welcome the historic funding boost, we are disappointed to learn that a substantial portion, some 45%, will be allocated towards providing up to 300 full-service campsites. In contrast, about 11%, or $9M total over three years, will be allocated towards “preserving the park experience”. This includes enhancing trails, improving accessibility for people who use wheelchairs, strollers or have other accessibility challenges and high priority maintenance projects. In our view, the substantial funding allocation to full-service RV campsites will serve a very small percentage of park users and do little to address the demands for day-use picnic sites, trails, and affordable camping experiences for BC residents and visitors.
The proposed allocation will simply perpetuate the imbalance in funding between ‘front-country’ contractors and capital investments (i.e., campsites, showers, running water, access roads, etc.) and backcountry expenditures (i.e., rangers, trails and backcountry camping). The latter have dropped sharply since about 1986, while the front-country expenditures continue to rise. The attached curve prepared by Rupert Merer (ACC-Whistler), who has analyzed BC Parks’ expenditures over the past 35 years, shows the comparative spending on front-country versus backcountry:
BC Parks’ proposed allocations are particularly frustrating when BC Parks is again implementing free day-use passes due to high visitor numbers in five provincial parks: Garibaldi, Golden Ears, Mount Robson, Stawamus Chief and Joffre Lakes Parks. BC Parks’ explanation for piloting the day-use pass for a second year is that “some of our most popular parks regularly experience high visitor volumes, resulting in crowded trails and facilities, packed parking lots, impacts to park environments and wildlife, local community concerns, and safety issues.” In our view, for most of the affected parks, the issue is lack of sufficient parking for both day-use visitors and overnight campers.
The day-use pass pilot will do nothing to resolve crowded trails and facilities, caused by chronic underfunding of BC Parks for more than 20 years, which left BC Parks understaffed and under-resourced to respond to BC’s significant population growth between 1980 and 2020, particularly in southwest BC (well-over one million population growth alone in Metro Vancouver). In addition, we have lost access to many traditional trails and recreation areas due to deactivation, deterioration or gating of resource and forest service roads; wildlife closures; and, in southwest BC, upgrades to the Sea-to-Sky Highway, which eliminated parking at several trailheads and brought parking prohibitions along the highway. As a result, people have no choice but to go to provincial parks.
Restricting access to popular provincial parks simply shifts the problem to unmanaged Crown land, overwhelmed recreation sites and trails managed by Recreation Sites and Trails BC and volunteers, and regional and municipal parks. While Crown land and recreation sites and trails outside of provincial parks are not within BC Parks’ mandate, they are within the provincial government’s mandate. Without a whole-government approach, the overcrowding of BC’s popular provincial parks will not be resolved.
We will continue to advocate for a more balanced allocation of the new funding, engage constructively and collaboratively with BC Parks and government to identify high priority backcountry trail and infrastructure projects and ensure accountability and transparency in how BC Parks uses the additional funds.