Parking reduced at Sasamat Lake as municipalities grapple with busy parks, beaches
Metro Vancouver says park attendance across region up nearly 50% compared to last year
Outdoor enthusiasts hoping to swim at Sasamat Lake in Port Moody, B.C., this weekend should brace themselves for disappointment as the regional district tries to manage crowds by reducing parking by half.
The popular lake is busy on warm summer days, but officials say the pandemic has increased the number of people as they opt to stay local instead of travelling further afield. By 9:30 a.m. last weekend, parking lots were full and White Pine Beach was packed.
Port Moody Mayor Rob Vagramov says the crowds have become untenable and increase the risk of spreading COVID-19.
"We're seeing a level of demand that kind of goes above and beyond the capabilities of a physical distancing," Vagramov said. "You just can't have that many people in that small a space."
The city has tried to reduce the number of people by prohibiting parking at Bedwell Bay Road, an access point that wraps around the west side of the lake. But Vagramov says people just toss pylons aside and even threaten bylaw officers to park there anyway. The city says it issued 185 fines last weekend, and five vehicles were towed.
Nearly 50% rise in park attendance
Doing its part to manage the crowds, Metro Vancouver, the regional authority that manages the lake, reduced parking by half as of Friday. People can still arrive by bus or by bike if the parking lots are full.
Steve Schaffrick, a regional parks manager with Metro Vancouver, says anyone planning to go to Sasamat Lake should check the regional authority's Twitter feed for updates and watch for signs on the road that say if parking lots are full.
"We just really hope that the crowds and the visitors respect the parking regulations [and] the signage," Schaffrick said.
Schaffrick says the situation at Sasamat Lake is echoed across the Lower Mainland as municipalities grapple with record-high numbers of visitors at local parks and beaches. Attendance at Metro Vancouver parks across the region has grown by nearly 50 per cent compared to this time last year, Schaffrick says.
Buntzen Lake, close to Sasamat but in the Village of Anmore, was also closed earlier in the spring but has since reopened. BC Hydro, which manages Buntzen, says the number of people allowed to park in the surrounding lots varies depending on how many are estimated to be hiking in the area or taking up space at the beach.
Anmore Mayor John McEwen, also the chair of Metro Vancouver regional parks committee, says many municipalities got lucky with the wet spring in the region but warm weather has brought unsustainable crowds.
"It's a tough situation," McEwen said.
In Vancouver, parking lots at several beaches were closed this spring when crowds increased at the beginning of the pandemic.
The District of North Vancouver, another popular destination for people across the Lower Mainland, has also struggled with crowds at its parks and on its trails. Earlier this spring, officials there shut down the Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge and Quarry Rock, both of which remain closed due to concerns about COVID-19 and crowding.
Risk of closure
Vagramov says he would hate to see Sasamat Lake shut down, but if the situation continues to get worse and the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise, it could happen.
"If you have folks that are piling in there day after day, weekend after weekend, and continuing to not socially distance or physically distance it's going to be an issue," he said.
In the meantime, Vagramov, the city and Metro Vancouver continue to seek solutions. On Tuesday, city council will vote on doubling parking fines for Bedwell Bay Road.
Vagramov says he would also be open to trying a parking reservation system like BC Parks has issued for some of its more popular recreation areas. Another idea he floated was to have shifts at Sasamat Lake, with people and the parking lot cleared out in between.
But his No. 1 recommendation is that people stay away and explore some of the province's many other lakes and wilderness areas instead.
"I would encourage folks to grab your groceries and your supplies locally, head out into a new spot, and check out what this province has to offer in a safe way," he said.