British Columbia

Regional park use increases by 37% to 14.4 million visits so far in 2020, says Metro Vancouver

Parks in Metro Vancouver have seen a record number of visits this year as people are forced to social distance and follow public safety measures due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Protected land added to Codd Wetland in Pitt Meadows east of Vancouver

Metro Vancouver saw a 37 per cent increase in visitation to regional parks so far in 2020. In order to keep up with the increase demand, Metro Vancouver acquired an additional 160 acres of land for the Codd Wetland Ecological Conservancy Area near Pitt Meadows. Plans are underway to have this additional area accessible to the public. (Metro Vancouver)

Parks in Metro Vancouver have chalked up a record number of visits this year as people are forced to social distance and avoid mingling indoors due to the ongoing pandemic.

During a press conference on Monday morning,  the chair of Metro Vancouver's board of directors said regional parks saw a 37 per cent increase in visits so far this year.

"2020 has been a big year for regional parks," Sav Dhaliwal said. "This year isn't over yet and already we have recorded over 14.4 million visits at the end of October and that is ... the largest ever single-year increase."

He added that for the past several years, parks in Metro Vancouver recorded an average of 11 million to 12 million visits, annually.

"Our experience in 2020, both in terms of record visitation and COVID response, underscores the importance of expanding the regional park system,'' he said.

Demand for regional parks was increasing at a rate more than double that of population growth prior to the pandemic, he noted, and acquiring new parkland is also a key part of the region's climate adaptation efforts.

The conservancy area is home to a wide variety of plants, birds, fish and other mammals. According to Pitt Meadows Mayor Bill Dingwall, Codd Wetland is one of the few areas in the Lower Mainland where Sandhill Cranes have been seen nesting. (Metro Vancouver)

On Monday, as a way to accommodate the increasing demand, Pitt Meadows Mayor Bill Dingwall announced the addition of 160 acres to the Codd Wetland Ecological Conservancy Area located east of Pitt River in the Pitt Polder region. Once new trails and viewpoints are built, it will be a space for visitors to connect with nature. 

"Pitt Meadows is known as the natural place," Dingwall explained. "Parks are the second largest land use in our city at 27 per cent [and] our natural areas are a source of pride for our community."

The land, which was purchased 2019 for $7.4 million, was initially zoned as rural residential before being zoned for park use.

"It's a big thing for our city, for the Fraser Valley and for all of Metro Vancouver," Dingwall said. "It took 160 acres out of our residential zoning, but all of council and our city support the acquisition."

There is no public access yet to the land added to the Codd Wetland, said the chair of Metro Vancouver's regional parks committee John McEwan, but staff are working toward that goal.

"Metro staff and the committee will work hand in hand ... to establishing a balance between protection of the ecosystem and public access," McEwan explained. "This park will truly become a gem for many years to come."

He said once the area is fully developed, it could "truly be what some deem in Vancouver as the Stanley Park for the eastern region."

With files from The Canadian Press

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