You still need a day pass to access Joffre Lakes Park this summer and this is why that sucks

On April 20, the province of BC announced that the BC Parks Day-Use Pass Program will return for Joffre Lakes Provincial Park (May 6), Golden Ears Provincial Park and Garibaldi Provincial Park (June 14).

I read about this at the Outdoor Recreation of BC website, where they announced their disappointment in this move… and am glad I read beyond the headline, because my reflex response was, “it’s madness up there and the day pass is utterly necessary, it would be so much worse without it…”

But ORCBC’s point is bigger and well worth reiterating and getting behind:

It’s a band-aid that does nothing to address the systemic issues at play:

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 to make space for residents and visitors.

Here’s the little statistic that I thought was worth noting and sharing:

The population in Metro Vancouver is expected to grow from 2.5 million to 3.7 million by 2050, and visits to regional parks have been growing at double the population growth rate, according to a 2018 report.

So this demand/supply situation is not going away anytime soon, and is really not going to be solved by the standard solution that has been out there to manage demand – lotteries and limited pass sign up windows (think West Coast Trail hike, Grand Canyon paddling) because that just displaces people to other areas where there is little or no infrastructure. (See Pemberton backcountry/roadside camping/rivers during pandemic.)

ORCBC’s position is that “In spite of an increasing population and an increasing interest in getting outdoors, very little has been done in decades to expand existing parks in proximity to the Lower Mainland, acquire new areas and approve more trails to meet the needs of the population and visitors. We are now in a position where park and recreation agencies are trying to play catch-up and increasingly have to resort to quotas, permits and restrictions to manage the number of visitors to popular parks, trails and day-use areas.

Many parks continue to have dated or no management plan in place to guide the development of recreation opportunities, including Mt Seymour, Pinecone Burke and Callaghan. The management planning process was initiated or was supposed to be initiated for all of these parks but stalled for various reasons, including a staffing shortage.

In spring 2021, BC Parks received an $83 million funding boost over three years for the expansion of trails and new campsites within the provincial park system; it remains vital 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.

ORCBC also calls for a cohesive recreation strategy for BC that outlines the future path for managing, developing and funding recreational opportunities for all British Columbians.”

This stirs a lot of emotion for me – and it feels very complex – I am struggling every day with the increased impact and busyness of some of my favourite places, the stress and impossibility of securing campsites through the summer time, and the jurisdictional quagmire around who has oversight and empowered stewardship over many (official or informal) recreation sites. And yet, I want to be hospitable and gracious about people’s desire to enjoy those places. I check my sense of entitlement against the reality that I am a newcomer too and that expanding parks can’t be the solution when that has been a tool for removing land from the reach and relationship of Indigenous people.

On May 1, ORCBC received funding to establish an endowment fund. ORCBC brings together 70 outdoor recreation clubs and associations that construct and maintain trails and recreation assets (including PORCA and the PVTA, as well as other regional recreation legends, WORCA, and the Bridge River Valley Community Association.) They’ve been lobbying since 2020 for a better model of funding for the volunteer organizations that really lead the charge in trail stewardship in BC. As a result, the province has committed a one-time grant of $10 million to set up an endowment fund, that will provide regular small grants for community-based volunteer recreation groups, Indigenous groups and local governments.

The ability to recreate is at the heart of wellness and the ability to spend time on the land and develop a relationship with the more than human world is, in my opinion, a key pathway to reconciliation. We need to find better ways to be in relationship so let’s keep paying attention to this conversation.

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