B.C. Parks budget to increase by $83 million over three years following summer of record demand
B.C. parks expects to add 185 camping sites in 2021
British Columbia will pump $83 million over three years into its parks for new campsites and to expand trails and accessibility as the province had a record-breaking year for camping reservations last year.
Environment Minister George Heyman says it will mean the capital budget for parks will increase by 57 per cent, while the operating budget will go up an average of 22 per cent for each of the three years.
He says parks have become all the more important during the pandemic in the province, which has prioritized campsite bookings for B.C. residents until July 8, when people outside of B.C. will be permitted to make reservations, pending any travel restrictions.
About 185 camping sites are expected to be added to B.C. parks this year, including a fully serviced, 90-site campground expected to open in Manning Park near Hope this summer.
Heyman says accessibility will be improved for people who use wheelchairs or strollers and that planning is underway to determine where new projects will be developed.
Heyman says the B.C. government has limited the number of campsites and people at some parks but everyone is advised to go to a park in their own community in keeping with travel restrictions.
He says spot audits over the Easter weekend to determine the number of people coming or trying to come from out of the province showed a 99 per cent compliance rate for reservations.
"When we called some numbers when we weren't sure if people were residents of B.C., a number of people voluntarily cancelled their reservations.''
A 'huge' investment
Tori Ball, a senior campaigner with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, says Friday's announcement is "huge."
"This is the biggest budget lift that we've had in 30 years. We've been calling for a significant budget increase to the B.C. Provincial Parks systems for decades and it's finally arrived," Ball said on CBC's On The Coast.
"It feels great."
Ball said the money will build up both backcountry and frontcountry camping, hire new staff, and support outdoor recreation, with improvements coming as early as this summer.
"From 2014 to 2018, B.C. Parks saw a 23 per cent increase in visitation," she said. "The numbers that we've seen from last summer and from last winter show us that there's no sign in slowing for demand for outdoor recreation."
Ball said her group would love to see the funding go to alleviating the pressure on overcrowded locations through expanding areas in existing parks or developing infrastructure in underutilized parks.
With files from On The Coast