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Reputation of 'Beautiful B.C.' at risk unless more funding given to parks: advocates

Last Updated Feb 27, 2019 at 11:50 am PDT

FILE - Cultus Lake Provincial Park. (Courtesy BC Parks)

CEO of the BC Parks Foundation who says the province's outdoor brand is at risk due to overcrowding and underinvestment

Andrew Day says our reputation as an outdoor destination could be damaged if the province doesn't invest in Parks soon

Advocates say BC Parks received minimal budget increases

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – British Columbia’s brand as a beautiful outdoor destination is at risk of degradation if the province doesn’t invest more cash into the system soon, say prominent outdoor and parks advocates.

They are concerned about safety, environmental protections and the province’s reputation as existing infrastructure decays and the number of visitors increases.

B.C. Parks Foundation CEO Andrew Day is speaking out after the province announced $3 million in new funding for Destination BC, a government agency responsible for promoting B.C.’s tourism industry.

“British Columbia spends roughly $2.80 per hectare on our parks. Comparatively speaking, Alberta spends about $36 per hectare,” he says.

“I see a ton of different impacts all the time. Some of those are ecological impacts some are impacts in terms of visitor experience or safety.”

Outdoor tourism booming

The number of visitors has increased rapidly over the last five years, Day’s number crunching shows a jump from 20 million to 25 million visitors to B.C.’s provincial and national parks in the last five years.

Steve Jones, an outdoors blogger and advocate for the needs of the outdoors community says there is a need to invest in more parking spaces, outhouses, camping spots and even new trails.

He says the government’s goals to increase tourism numbers over the next few years doesn’t take into account the downstream effects on the parks system.

“Some people come here to get on a cruise ship, other people come to see the museums … but a lot of what Destination BC does is draw people using our strongest point … which is our natural areas and our parks system,” says Jones.

He points to the type of advertising the agency uses, regularly promoting wild spaces, parks and forested lands with magnificent images of mountains and rivers.

“It’s very clear that Destination BC draws on our natural areas and our parks as one of the main attractions,” he says.

Day says it’s like the province is plucking the “goose that laid the golden egg to make a down comforter,” but no one is feeding the goose.

“You have to feed it. You can’t just take, take, take. I think that’s something all British Columbians understand,” says Day.

Ecology, safety and reputation

When people find themselves an overcrowded parking lot, a full campsite or an otherwise overcrowded outdoor area, they are more likely to head into more complex and unfamiliar areas on Crown land or to remote recreation sites, according to Jones.

“When you go into those other areas they have absolutely no infrastructure. Often they don’t have even a single outhouse or any trail signs.”

He says those areas are more sensitive and you often end up with more people needing help or search and rescue because of the lack of information and signage in those areas.

Jones also worries about the “Beautiful British Columbia” brand.

“Because the visitor experience is declining, people aren’t going to go back to their home countries and say ‘You know what, visiting B.C. was a great experience, you should do it.’ So we are going to start to actually have some reputational damage which will harm the tourism industry.”

Province responds

B.C. Parks are run by the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy which received a total budget of $243 million for 2019/2020.

The ministry received a huge bump in overall funding but most of that is earmarked for investments into B.C.’s green future by reducing emissions.

“Other new funding is going towards cannabis legalization implementation, BC Parks and other environmental priorities,” says an email from the ministry communications department.

In response to questions about investing in parks further, the province points to a program launched by the B.C Liberals that will see 1900 new campsites built over 5 years; 350 are already in service.

“We continue to look at areas where we can acquire or add to existing parks, and are investing in more backcountry facilities to enhance visitor experience,” says the same ministry email.

BC Parks’ budget rose from $40,478,000 in 2018/19 to $41,567,000 in the recent budget update for 2019/20.