British Columbia

Metro Vancouver's regional parks see surge in visits in April

Visits to regional parks in Metro Vancouver were up 67 per cent in April compared to the previous year. Officials say they expect the popularity of the region's green spaces to continue through the summer as people stay closer to home during the pandemic.

Visits were up 67 per cent, similar to use in the middle of summer

An example of a Metro Vancouver physical distancing sign at parks around the region. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Regional parks in Metro Vancouver saw a surge in visits in April as people flocked to outdoor spaces to weather the pandemic in B.C.'s most populous region.

In April, there were 1.5 million visits, compared to 916,000 during the same month a year earlier; that's is a 67 per cent increase.

"Everybody has just doubled down and we've also had great weather … so we started to see summer volumes in the early spring," said Jerry Dobrovolny, Metro Vancouver's commissioner and chief administrative officer. 

Metro Vancouver is a federation of 21 municipalities and has 22 regional parks.

Dobrovolny expects the high number of park visits to continue in the months ahead as people stay closer to home and heed the advice of the provincial health officer to get outside.

In late March, Metro Vancouver officials said it was their plan to keep parks open as long as visitors observed physical distancing guidelines and other measures, such as increased hand washing.

Around 2.5 million people live within Metro Vancouver, which ranges from Lions Bay to the Township of Langley.

The backcountry in Lynn Headwaters Regional Park, one of Metro Vancouver's numerous public green spaces. (Metro Vancouver.)

Dobrovolny said that, overall, most people have been following pandemic guidelines at Metro Vancouver parks.

"On the whole, people have been really, really good," he said.

Metro Vancouver officials have warned though that if people create unsafe conditions at regional parks, they could be closed.

Staff who have been assigned to patrol parks and remind people of safe practices have had more than 100,000 interactions with people since April. 

Parking woes

Officials with Metro Vancouver are trying to figure out how to avoid car jams at parking lots as park visits climb.

Right now, they are encouraging people to visit parks in their area and use transit or active transportation such as cycling to get there. 

Dobrovolny concedes though that with such a varied park system around the region, people will be tempted to explore beyond their immediate neighbourhoods.

He said Metro Vancouver's parks committee has passed a motion asking staff to review how to deal with crowds at parks. Staff are also talking to TransLink about possibly adding more transit service to parks.

More space

In 2019, the Metro Vancouver regional parks system had nearly 12 million visitors, up almost two per cent from 2018.

A land acquisition fund, worth close to $12 million a year, is in place to add more green space to Metro Vancouver every year.

In 2019 it added 80 hectares. This week Metro Vancouver officials announced the purchase of two separate parcels of land in Maple Ridge, totalling 9.4 hectares.

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