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BC Parks funding takes hit despite pleas of outdoor advocates

Last Updated Feb 29, 2020 at 9:08 am PDT

FILE: Cypress Mountain is seen here from the NEWS 1130 Air Patrol in November of 2019. (Source: Riley Phillips, NEWS 1130 Photo)

More than 26 million park visits were counted in BC in 2018 and 2019, one of the biggest drivers of tourism in B.C.

But critics are angry the government cut BC Parks budget given it's sizable contribution to the tourism

Destination BC want to increase outdoor tourism by at least six per cent over the next three years

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Why is the government cutting funds from a department that stimulates economic growth?

That’s the question critics, who say the NDP have paid little more than lip service, to the BC Parks system have, after last week’s budget was revealed.

BC Parks saw a minor reduction, from $41.7 to $40.6-million, at a time when advocates have are calling for increases and criticizing the funding imbalance between BC Parks and Destination BC (a Crown corporation dedicated to marketing B.C.’s tourism industry).

Writer and outdoor advocate Steven Threndale says it’s particularly insulting that the province uses images of the outdoors, mountains and forests to attract more visitors.

“That’s the lure to get people to come to B.C. from afar, those are very high value tourists or adventurers,” he says, adding those people arrive only to find campsites booked up or rec-sites closed because of trash and problem bears.

Many fear the lack of investment is giving BC a bad reputation for crowded, dirty and weathered recreation sites and say trails are simply wearing out, which has implications for wildlife and biodiversity.

Transparency demanded

With a budget of $51.3-million in 2020 (down from $52.6-million last year), Destination BC has become a target for those unhappy with continual de-funding and lack of investment by the province into the outdoors and trails.

The organization’s annual report shows tourism overall generated more than $18-billion in 2017.

More than 26 million visits to BC Parks were logged in 2018-2019. Destination BC forecasts a six per cent increase in visitors in the next three years.

Even if the number of visitors stays the same, a $40.6-million budget means the government is investing just $1.55 per visit.

Writer and outdoor advocate Steven Threndale says he wants to see more transparency in spending.

“For instance we’ve got this great licence plate program, well, where does that money go?” he asks.

“We’re aware that it’s diverted to parks but how is this money being spent and where are the upgrades and where are the new trails we so desperately need?”

He says it’s time for B.C. to look to Europe for creative solutions ranging from commercialization of crown land (ski resorts, etc) to using broader volunteer networks for trail building.

“The focus on more trails, better parking, more campsites, better reservation systems; these seem to be issues that other jurisdictions handle better,” he says.

He acknowledges the number of people using parks is a major challenge for the Ministry and staff but says there should be more willingness to work with existing trail organizations, and points out volunteer-run mountain bike clubs have long maintained large networks of trails across the province, on their own, creating a world class draw for international riders.

For outdoor advocate Steve Jones, it’s time to start looking at alternative approaches. He explores some of those options in a recent post.

“One way to manage a park system with an undersized budget is to limit visitors through park closures and quotas. One example of this is Brandywine Falls Provincial Park. If the park was open then BC Parks would need to pay to plow the parking lot and maintain the outhouse and the park would see thousands of visitors. Instead, the gate is closed for the entire winter and people who park outside the gate are towed away,” he writes.

“Other examples are the introductions of mandatory reservations and the phasing out of overflow camping areas. When this is taken to the extreme, visitors will need to enter a lottery each year and it may take years before they win an opportunity to visit a given park,” he says the downside is fewer people would be able to enjoy the parks.