British Columbia

For many hikers, navigating BC Parks' day pass program hasn't been a walk in the park

Normally when Kristine Krynitzki goes for a long hike, she likes to be at the trailhead early — but BC Parks' new pass system makes that difficult.

Ministry of Environment says it will review all feedback before implementing future day pass program

Kristine Krynitzki says BC Parks' day pass program is a welcome addition but it still has some kinks to work out. (Adele Ng /@mywhiskeygirl )

Normally when Kristine Krynitzki goes for a long hike, she likes to be at the trailhead early.

But BC Parks' new day pass program is making that pretty difficult, as the online booking portal doesn't open up for day-of booking until 6 a.m. 

"For serious hikers, that's way too late. A lot of us start earlier for big day hikes and we like to plan, too," says Krynitzki, who founded the group Hikes Near Vancouver.

It's been almost two weeks since BC Parks introduced its new day pass program for hiking trails on six of the province's most popular mountains. And while the move is welcomed by many in the hiking community, like Krynitzki, it's not without its flaws, they say.

Chiefs among the complaints of the new pilot program are its day-of availability, an allegedly overloaded web portal and how it simply shifts crowds to other regional and Crown land trails that don't have the infrastructure to support mass use.

Not only does the day of availability fail to take into account the common hiker habits, but it also fails to offer cancellations, meaning some slots are going unfilled, says Krynitzki.

"That's a huge concern for a lot of people [in her hiking group]," she said.

BC Parks introduced the pilot as a way to control crowds in popular parks where the public has been flocking in droves as the COVID-19 pandemic reduced the number of options for recreation.

BC Parks says that for some of its most popular parks, Golden Ears and Stawamus Chief, daily passes are completely issued by early-mid morning. (Discover Camping)

And Krynitzki and her members aren't alone in their concerns. Chris Ludwig, president of the B.C. Mountaineering Club, says the only feedback he has heard from his 1,200 members is frustration.

"I haven't heard one positive review of this, sadly," he said. He says he supports limiting trail use but has problems with how it's been executed.

Ludwig says hikers are frustrated by the Discover Camping booking portal, citing a cumbersome website that often crashes as passes sell out within minutes of opening. Multiple hikers told CBC News similar concerns.

However, the Ministry of Environment says it hasn't experienced any technical difficulties with the portal.

Ludwig, a veteran hiker, says he's noticed an explosion in Crown land and regional trail use since the pilot program was introduced; trails that he says don't have the infrastructure to both support the high numbers of users and resist environmental damage.

"These park passes are only typically allowing 20 to 30 per cent of what was formerly allowed, so where is that other 70 per cent going?" he said. "They're going into areas ... that are being trashed completely."

Ludwig says the B.C. Mountaineering Club maintains many different hiking trails on Crown land and the damage to the trails is having a huge impact on his volunteer trail builders who are struggling to keep up.

Chris Ludwig says there's been a huge displacement of hikers heading out to Crown land trails that can't support the increased use. (Submitted by Chris Ludwig)

The Ministry of Environment says the pilot was implemented with visitor safety as its top priority with day-use passes allowing it to prevent crowding on trails and to provide opportunities for physical distancing.

It is still a pilot project, it says.

"BC Parks will address feedback and make appropriate changes prior to any future iterations of a full day-use program," it said in a statement.

It says between 2,700 and 3,000 people booked day passes for the six parks in the first four days of the program, adding that for some of its most popular parks, like Golden Ears and Stawamus Chief, it is issuing all daily passes by early-mid morning.

And if people attempt to hike a trail without a valid day pass, the ministry says users could face potential penalties of $115, however "the focus for this pilot will be on education and helping users adjust to the new requirements."

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