British Columbia

Mayors worry park restrictions, day passes are shifting crowds to smaller community areas

A pair of Metro Vancouver mayors are worried that restrictions on popular regional and provincial parks are forcing smaller community parks to bear a larger, less physically distanced, load.

Closing one park leads to overcrowding at another, warns Port Moody mayor

Mayor Richard Stewart says the parking lot to Buntzen Lake is often closed early in the morning, forcing would-be-users to travel to smaller community parks. (Shutterstock)

A pair of Metro Vancouver mayors are worried that restrictions on popular regional and provincial parks are forcing smaller community parks to bear a larger, less physically distanced, load.

Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart says the parking lot at Buntzen Lake, which is managed by BC Hydro, will often be closed around 8:30 a.m., when the park isn't anywhere near capacity.

Stewart says those turned away are then forced to visit smaller parks around the community that aren't set up to support large crowds.

He also says the province's day pass system is putting more pressure on small parks because it restricts the number of daily visitors allowed in the more popular provincial parks.

"It would make… better sense to try and spread people out a little bit more rather than making sure there's almost nobody at the provincial parks," said Stewart.

"If each of us decides that we're going to keep our parks absolutely safe, we will end up essentially closing things that should be open as a release valve and other communities will face the effects."

Port Moody Mayor Rob Vagramov shares many of the same concerns. He says his council is working with BC Hydro and has asked them to allow more vehicles to park at Buntzen Lake, which features a popular beachfront and several hiking trails.

"Overcrowding leads to issues and complaints, which can lead to full-scale park closures," said Vagramov in a statement on Facebook.

"Due to extreme demand, one park closing down would push demand onto neighbouring parks, which are already stretched to capacity, potentially leading to a domino effect."

BC Hydro says there are approximately 600 parking spaces at the Buntzen Lake parking lot and about 500 vehicles visited each day over the long weekend, although it adds the numbers vary day to day.

As for how many vehicles it decides to allow into the parking lot, the utility says that all depends on how Buntzen Lake is being used.

If there are more hikers and the beach is empty, it might open the gate and allow more people to enter. But when there are more users on the beach and physical distancing measures need to implemented, BC Hydro limits parking capacity.

"We're taking a staged approach to reopening our recreation sites that ensures we can adhere to provincial health guidelines and prioritizes the health and safety of visitors," BC Hydro said in a statement.

Day pass program open to adjustments

On July 27, it became a little bit more difficult to visit six provincial parks in B.C.

The province added a free, day pass pilot project to try and limit the number of people attending the parks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

BC Parks says between 2,700 and 3,000 people got day passes for the six parks in the first four days of the program.

Stewart believes the provincial parks aren't anywhere near their capacity. "Those parks aren't as crowded as some of the local parks now," he said.

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)

BC Parks says managing the number of visitors in popular parks through free day passes keeps parks safe for everyone to enjoy.

"Visitor safety is our priority," it said in a statement. "[The pilot project] allows us to safely manage the number of people in busy parks to prevent crowding on trails, provide opportunities for physical distancing, and a much more enjoyable experience."

While BC Parks says the program has overall been well received by the public, it admits that the program is still in the pilot phase and it may need some adjustments.

Both Stewart and Vagramov say they're hopeful that all levels of government, as well as BC Hydro, can work together to make sure that all facilities are open and available to spread out the crowds.

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