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Mixed messages outdoors: Why are some parks opening, others not?

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

Why is your favourite provincial park staying closed, even as others ready to open?

As the province moves to re-open some parks, advocates say underfunding is making it hard to reverse some shutdowns

One expert says partial openings at some parks could be one way around the issue

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – BC Parks has long been underfunded, but the pandemic is highlighting the issue, say advocates for outdoor spaces.

With provincial parks getting set to reopen soon, there’s some doubt the system has what it needs for a smooth transition.

The plan is to open some provincially-run outdoor spaces on May 14, but a number of parks will remain closed. British Columbians also won’t be able to camp overnight until later, in June.

Outdoor educator Brent Hillier suspects the health ministry and environment ministry aren’t talking to each other.

“There’s really a disconnect between what’s happening on the ground and the communication that’s happening from the province; one jurisdiction’s saying ‘Go outside,’ and then other jurisdictions are shutting down parks and making that a lot harder,” Hillier says, telling NEWS 1130 the answers he’s getting about how decisions are being made don’t seem to line up.

He suspects it has more to do with budgeting than science, adding those responsible for some parks are now trying to play catch up. “So they’re not necessarily prepared to be opened up.”

“These parks were shutting down, shutting down, shutting down, for weeks and now it’s like, all of a sudden they’ve got to do an about face and they’ve got to open up,” Hillier says. “So I think on the ground some of them aren’t as prepared as perhaps some of the other parks are.”

“I don’t think that our parks have enough funding to be prepared for this kind of thing. I think parks are really suffering in a lot of ways and we see that with places like Joffre; when a park becomes popular it can’t handle that. It comes from this issue of parks being underfunded for years,” says Hillier.

Outdoor advocate and writer Steve Jones says it’s the same as it always is with parks

“They just don’t have the staff and don’t have the funding,” he explains, noting money — or lack thereof — is an issue that’s making reopening some local spots even more difficult.

“At Seymour and Cypress, there’s still lots of snow up there so you know, in order to get things reopened they’d have to go back and reopen them for winter operations essentially, like re-mark all of the snowshoe trails.”

He hopes the province will consider more case-by-case and common sense closures of popular viewpoints or parking lots, while still allowing people into recreation and conservation areas.

The Ministry of Environment says social distancing requirements are harder to enforce at some parks than others.

Provincial parks have been closed to encourage physical distancing since April 8. All federal parks have been closed since March 25.

You can find a list of which provincial parks are open here.