Canadians love spending time in parks, but those visits have a cost

Victoria Day weekend is the unofficial start to summer in Canada. As many people head to campgrounds, parks, beaches and green spaces, it's worth asking how many visits these places can handle.

As summer begins, attention turns to protecting the nation's precious green spaces

A busy trail at Rouge National Urban Park in the Greater Toronto Area. The park's boundaries fall across several cities, including Toronto, Pickering and Markham, Ont. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC)

Listen to: For The Love of Parks

Our passion for parks has only grown during the past two and a bit years of the pandemic, as we crave green space and access to the outdoors.

In the CBC Radio special For the Love of Parks, host Adrienne Lamb explores the effect our green spaces have on us and the effect we have on them. 

Lamb meets a Vancouver doctor prescribing time in nature, takes a hike through Toronto's Rouge National Urban Park and looks the cost of skyrocketing park visits and the strain that usage is putting on fragile ecosystems.

Overbooked campsites, human-wildlife interactions, headaches over traffic and garbage are just a few of the problems Sandra Schwartz, the national executive director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), has been hearing from staff at national, provincial and regional parks across the country.

"There's certainly a trend toward loving parks to death or over-tourism in certain areas," said Schwartz.

"The trend to more and more visitation reinforces an urgency to protect natural space."

Some of the members of the Sistaz4PAN hiking group on a fall outing in Rouge National Urban Park. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC)

But the benefit of people seeking out green spaces during the pandemic is that they're creating a "really important bond with nature," said Elizabeth Halpenny, a University of Alberta professor who studies the balancing act between the ecosystem and tourism and recreation.

"Hopefully, this translates into a population, a next generation, that's reconnected with nature and becomes more fierce stewards of nature going forward," said Halpenny.

Halpenny says more funding for green spaces could help, as well as encouraging campers and hikers to visit lesser-known places. Offering free day-use passes, like the ones B.C. Parks piloted during the pandemic, might also be part of the solution.

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