The SWBC Recreation and Conservation Committee, FMCBC clubs and members have worked on a range of issues since the last report in Cloudburst. The following highlights some advocacy projects, which have absorbed members’ time over the past several months.
BC Funding Commitments Benefiting Outdoor Recreation Interests
In June 2022, the FMCBC, Caledonia Ramblers (Prince George), Outdoor Recreation Council of BC (ORCBC) and other organizations made submissions to the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Governance for greater funding for BC Parks and Recreation Sites and Trails BC (RSTBC) to allow both agencies to expand public recreation opportunities, restore long-neglected trails and recreation facilities and support volunteer groups; and, for funding to maintain critical roads to access parks and recreation sites. In the fall, the Select Standing Committee issued their report, which included recommendations for further investments in BC Parks and RSTBC to address gaps in maintenance and staff, improve the accessibility of outdoor recreation and build the capacity of volunteers. In February 2023, the provincial government announced a further $40M to be spread over three years to fund routine and critical repairs and maintenance and ensure more parks meet basic accessibility requirements. The February 2023 budget also provides an additional $35M in operating funding and $14M in capital funding to maintain and upgrade forest service roads, which are essential to access many remote rural and Indigenous communities, as well as many provincial parks and recreation sites.
In June 2023, the FMCBC will again be making submissions to the Select Standing Committee to ensure long-term stable funding for our provincial parks, recreational assets and access road. To help build our case, the FMCBC will be reaching out to member cubs for examples of provincial parks and recreation sites where trails, campsites and other facilities could be expanded, enhanced or upgraded; and, for examples of access roads that need maintenance or upgrades.
New Vision for How the Public Service Manages Public Recreation in BC
With BC Parks and RSTBC now under the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, the Minister is seeking to develop a new vision and strategic plan for the newly created BC Parks, Recreation Sites and Trails Division. John Hawkings, formerly the executive Director for RSTBC, has been appointed the Executive Lead for Recreation Strategy and Service Transformation (RSST). After a new shared vision and strategic plan is developed for the new Division, Mr. Hawkings will focus on organization, design and implementation to support the new vision and service delivery. While integration of BC Parks and RSTBC is his primary focus, there may be some level of integration of other departments and agencies, whose policies and mandates are often implemented with little consideration of their impact on public recreation and access.
In late December, the FMCBC responded to ORCBC’s invitation to provide initial feedback on issues and opportunities that we would like the Minister to consider as the Ministry moves forward with the RSST project. The FMCBC provided our perspective on what we see as the top challenges within the public sector in managing parks and public outdoor recreation and the top challenges for the organized recreation sector and recreating public to be addressed by the new Division. Lack of staff, resources and annual budgets were a recurring theme underlying many members’ frustration with the public service’s inability to serve the public’s outdoor recreational interests, address climate change, manage and maintain access roads and support volunteers that are integral to the maintenance of much of BC’s outdoor recreation infrastructure. The lack of a “whole government approach” to managing and delivering recreation opportunities was identified as a major hinderance as much volunteer time is spent navigating multiple Ministries, agencies and departments which have jurisdiction over matters relevant to the recreating public. The lack of public input and accountability in all phases of decision-making about public outdoor recreation is another major frustration for members. Integration of BC Parks and RSTBC into one Division offers the potential for eliminating some redundancies, alignment of policies and mandates and improving delivery of services to the recreating public.
At a recent presentation to ORCBC members, Mr. Hawkings recognized that ORCBC and members have advocated for a province-wide outdoor recreation strategy since the 1970s. He identified several changes since then which have made today’s environment increasingly complex.
Some of the changes that RSST will have to address are:
• Co-management of parks and recreations sites with First Nations. The scope of such co-management arrangements will vary to reflect the diversity of First Nations and interests.
• While public interest in outdoor recreation has always been high, changes in use patterns and demographics have made the 1990s recreation model obsolete. For example, data has identified day-use activities at or near lakes as the number one outdoor activity. Also, greater participation and interest in outdoor recreation by people with disabilities require parks and recreation sites to become more accessible and inclusive.
• The recent heat dome and atmospheric river events have exposed the vulnerability of many parks, recreation sites, trails and infrastructure. The impacts of climate change on wildlife and ecosystems must also be considered in the management of parks, recreation sites, trails and recreational activities.
• With resource roads providing critical access to many parks and recreation sites, maintenance for recreational purpose needs to be addressed.
While the two-year timeline for the RSST project is daunting, with more staff and resources coming on line, Mr. Hawkings anticipates there will be more opportunities for the recreation sector to contribute to the development of the new vision and strategic plan for BC Parks, Recreation Sites and Trails Division.
Recreation Facility Plans for Mount Seymour, Golden Ears and Cultus Lake
In response to BC Parks’ mandate to expand outdoor recreation opportunities in our provincial parks, BC Parks is undertaking recreation facility planning in Mount Seymour, Golden Ears and Cultus Lake Provincial Parks. These three parks were selected due to their high visitation levels and need for facility improvements. Stakeholders and the public will be invited to contribute to the planning process through the project website, stakeholder workshops, surveys and mapping tools.
A Recreation Facility Plan for Mount Seymour is a welcome initiative, since much of Mount Seymour trails and infrastructure is in serious need of upgrades and the park management planning process, commenced in 2020, has stalled due to staffing changes and vacancies in BC Parks. When completed, the Recreation Facility Plan will inform the park management plan.
In early April, representatives from FMCBC and several member clubs – ACC-Vancouver, North Shore Hikers, Varsity Outdoor Club-UBC and North Vancouver Outdoor Club – joined other organizations at a stakeholder workshop for Mount Seymour Park. During the Zoom workshop the group identified strengths, challenges and barriers, objectives for new facilities and ideas for the future. Feedback at the workshop included prioritizing expansion of trailhead access points, creation of directional loop trails (i.e., a loop trails for Mystery Lake and for De Pencier Bluffs) and trail connectors to expand the capacity of the current trail system and reduce wear and tear of the trail system; facilitating access for people without cars by upgrading the park road to make it more bike friendly and by developing connector trails from the park entrance to the upper trail system for those accessing the park via transit; earlier gate openings to expand access, particularly in winter; and, improving parking for visitors and providing more accessible washrooms.
The timeline for completing the Mt Seymour Recreation Facility Plan is tight. After stakeholder and community engagement ends in early May, BC Parks plans to release draft recommendations for stakeholder review in Summer 2023. A draft report and recommendations will be shared in Summer 2023, followed by the release of the final report in Fall/Winter 2023.