Metro Vancouver officials are cautioning the region's residents to stay within their municipal borders and avoid making a trip out to White Pine Beach in Port Moody, following a wave of massive crowds, traffic congestion and disregard for physical distancing.
With sunny weather in the forecast this weekend, temperatures could feel as high as 35 C on Sunday. That has Metro’s regional park staff concerned after the arrival of especially large crowds in recent weeks at the Sasamat Lake beach in Belcarra Regional Park and Boundary Bay Regional Park in Delta.
“It’s a nightmare,” said Belcarra mayor Neil Belenkie, whose nearby municipal government recently passed strict bylaws which tripled fines for parking infractions in an effort to curb the massive uptick in illegal parking.
“They’re leaving their cars all over the place, trusting in the sheer volume of illegal parking to ensure they won’t get ticketed.”
Belenkie said he worries about the worst-case scenarios where a group of children get hit by someone trying to gun it around a double-parked car or a careless moment that triggers a forest fire, something he’s recently sounded the alarm over.
“I worry about the risk of a forest fire and an unheard number of people being trapped,” said the mayor, who used to be a volunteer firefighter in the village.
Sasamat Lake sunday pic.twitter.com/CwBYZBbupm— . (@igamband) July 23, 2020
The municipality has also seen the amount of trash strewn along trails balloon this year, said Belenkie, with illegal dumping near parking spots also on the rise as people leave behind garbage from their time at the beach.
Village staff told The Tri-City News many of those tickets come not from the Tri-Cities, but from across the region, including Burnaby, Langley, Surrey, North Vancouver and up the Fraser Valley.
Ticket infractions have started to climb over the last three years, but this year with the onset of summer, they shot up.
Since January, there’s been a 40% increase in visitors to Metro Vancouver’s regional parks compared to this time last year. In Belcarra Regional Park, park visitors have shot up to 67% so far over 2019.
“I don’t know if it’s become a cool area [or] because there’s a level of angst or unrest because of COVID restrictions,” said Belenkie. “We see a lot of young adults not social distancing.”
“There’s no question: it’s the Florida of Metro Vancouver.”
Metro Vancouver’s latest message to the public is focused squarely on the risks posed by the transmission of COVID-19 and is calling on Metro Vancouverites to “avoid beach parks” and explore nearby trails instead — or better yet, find a park closer to home.
But on the ground, Anmore, Port Moody and BC Hydro are scrambling to come up with long-term solutions. As the three neighbouring jurisdictions traffic passes through to get to Sasamat Lake, they’re hamstrung by the fact regional parks belong to the region.
“The tough thing is these parks are paid for by regional tax dollars. So we can’t limit people’s access to them… Even the roads are regionally funded,” said John McEwen, who as Anmore’s mayor also chair’s Metro Vancouver’s Regional Parks Committee.
Port Moody, for its part, is looking to double fines for parking violations from $50 to $100. City manager Tim Savoie said 109 tickets were issued just last Sunday, and another 74 on Saturday. Several vehicles were also towed, and more would have been impounded were it not for a shortage of tow trucks, he added.
“Last week, it was complete lawlessness,” said McEwen, pointing to 27 no parking signs Port Moody has lost due to illegal parkers.
“They’ve just driven over them and thrown them into woods. They put plastic bags over [no parking signs] so they can’t see them,” he said.
McEwen drove to the lake last weekend to check on the situation himself and said he found vehicles parked all the way down to the Ioco Town site, over two and a half kilometres away. From there, they walk, he said, carrying floaties and coolers along a busy road with hardly any shoulder due to all the parked cars.
In the past, the regional and municipal authorities have put up large signs indicating when the parking lot is full. But that hasn’t appeared to work this year.
This weekend, they’re sending out more signage, bylaw officers and parking a tow truck near the entrance to the lake early in the day as a deterrent.
“When you have one person parking, everyone jumps on,” said McEwen. “We want to prevent that.”