VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Maintaining more than 30,000 kilometres of trails doesn’t come cheap and the province is exploring new revenue options as part of its Trails Strategy review.
Friday is the last day to add your voice and have a say in the future of trail maintenance and building as a survey on the topic closes.
But it comes as BC Parks’ budget has been cut by nearly a million dollars, from $41.6 million to $40.7 million and Destination BC is forecasting a six per cent growth in tourism over the next three years.
Critics, like advocate Steve Jones, say that’s putting more stress on an already-overwhelmed trail system.
“Today, our parks are suffering from an increasing burden of deferred maintenance with each passing year and many trails and campgrounds are seeing unmanageable quantities of visitors in peak periods,” writes Jones in his blog.
The province’s survey asks people to rank their support for daily or annual user fees, volunteer-based trail maintenance programs and even a tax on outdoor recreation gear.
Digging themselves out
As Lower Mainland sites become increasingly crowded year-round, some skiers, snowshoers and backcountry users have been forced to take matters into their own hands after a funding issue blocked access to the north-end of Garibaldi Park.
Haley Folodare, the huts coordinator with the UBC Varsity Outdoors Club, is organizing a group of volunteers to dig their own way to the Rubble Creek parking lot that was, until recently, plowed by the Ministry of Transportation.
She says it’s a slippery slope to make people pay to access public spaces.
“Going outside should be a low cost endeavor, to remove barriers so that everybody has a chance to go skiing and to go outside,” she says. “Especially in an area that is supposed to be protected and operated by the government, we didn’t feel it was fair to be charging, especially because they are still charging for winter camping even though they are not providing access.”
About 2,000 people use Rubble Creek on Daisy Lake Road each winter to access Garibaldi Park and a number of paid, reserved camping sites in the park.
BC Parks says it doesn’t have the funding to pay the $12,000 to $18,000 it would take to keep the area ploughed over the winter, which would amount to between $6 and $9 per person each season.
“We did consider fundraising but even the amount we had to raise was huge and BC Parks wasn’t able to accept that funding directly,” says Folodare.
Some have suggested a parking fee to cover that cost would solve the problem at Rubble Creek and other areas suffering from similar funding issues.
The province is trying to measure support for such long term solutions, like a tax on outdoor recreation gear, parking fees or even annual permits.
Critics say investment is needed immediately, not just to keep up with maintenance but increasing tourism that’s wearing the trails down.
“The status quo is not an option for the management of the parks system,” says Jones, who has long opined about declining funding, a lack of enforcement capacity and degrading trails as a result of overtourism.
For Jones and other critics, it’s not just about creating new revenue, but keeping our activities in outdoor and wilderness areas sustainable.
Jones assesses a number of mitigation options in his most recent blog, including the downsides of charging fees, which could limit access to people with low incomes.
The survey includes a statement from the government that suggests government funding for trail maintenance is not in the cards any time soon.
“Trails in British Columbia are frequently built and maintained by volunteers. While government funding programs are sometimes available, this funding source is not a sustainable source of funds for trail development and maintenance,” it reads.
Most of the province’s trails are already maintained through volunteer work organized by trail associations throughout the province.
Outdoor writer and hiker Steven Threndale says more partnerships and increasing reliance on volunteers as trail builders is a good option.
“Task management for some of these trails can be rolled over to these clubs. For example mountain bikers have created a stunning network all through the province,” he says, adding hikers haven’t had as much luck working with the bureaucracy in provincial parks.
He says funding isn’t the number one issue, it’s bureaucracy. He criticizes the government for moving slowly on increasing capacity when investing so much more into Destination BC than BC Parks.
“It’s particularly insulting when Destination BC is using imagery of these fabulous provincial parks like Mt. Assiniboine and Mt. Robson,” he says. “And then that’s the lure to get people to come to B.C. from afar … then they come here and find out there’s thousands of people at Joffre Lakes and they can’t get a campsite because they’re all booked.”
“We deserve well-maintained and well-marked trails,” says Threndale.
“However, in [the province’s defense] so many people are using these areas,” he says, adding the maintenance required to keep up remote wilderness trails takes a massive workforce.
The survey is also an opportunity to tell the province about barriers to accessing the outdoors for people with disabilities and visible minorities and asks how important adding new trails is to people.
Meanwhile, Foladare says she’s hoping as many members of the community as possible will join her to shovel at Daisy Lake Road, just south of Whistler, on Mar. 7 at 7:00 a.m.