Many hikers who can't get a BC Parks Day-Use Pass for their preferred park stay home.
That is one of the takeaways from a recent survey that stood out for Tom Ireland, advocacy committee chair of the Friends of Garibaldi Park Society (FOGPS).
“I felt like that was especially significant when the original rhetoric when the day pass was first piloted a couple of years ago, was that it was something related to the pandemic. And at that time, we were hearing a lot of ‘You should get outside; this is a good way to be careful of your mental health and physical health,” said Ireland. “So seeing that day pass system actually led to a lot of people staying home, really undermines that initial message.”
The FOGPS survey closed in March of 2022 and collected close to 1,000 responses from trail users.
More than 20% of those who tried to get a day pass couldn’t.
The survey found that 58% of respondents who tried and failed to get a day pass opted to stay home instead.
Those who failed to get a pass and ventured out anyway often headed to Squamish’s WaterSprite Lake or to Wedgemount Lake in Garibaldi Provincial Park.
“The day pass system may be good for protecting the potential overuse of the trails in the parks where it’s functioning, but it’s not doing anything to other locations that people are going to, especially when some of those are volunteer managed or even unmanaged locations,” said Ireland.
Ultimately, the survey found that 68% of respondents do not support the day pass system in BC Parks.
Earlier this month, BC Parks announced that starting June 17, free day-use passes are required to visit the popular Garibaldi, Golden Ears, and Joffre Lakes parks.
The pass system was first introduced in 2020 as a solution to crowding in the most popular parks.
“We strongly believe that a day-use pass reservation system is not the right way to manage capacity in our provincial parks, as it focuses on limiting access to our outdoor spaces, rather than on creating new opportunities to increase access in a time when British Columbians desperately need it,” the Friends of Garibaldi Park Society wrote in an open letter.
The society decided to develop its survey after seeing what its members said were biases in the BC Parks consultation process regarding day-use passes. That feedback was gathered only from those who had successfully obtained a pass in 2020, they said.
The non-profit FOGPS wants BC Parks to drop the day pass system and invest in trails instead.
“We think there are lots of ways when you’re concerned about the impact of X-number of people going on any given trail, to actually disperse those people by creating other trails, by looking at where there are opportunities to create loops. So you obviously don’t have traffic passing on trails, which is often where you see trail widening and [braiding] and things like that,” Ireland said.
“We haven’t been able to see exactly how much in subsequent years has been spent on the day pass system. But originally, when they set it up in 2020... $900,000 was spent, and that’s a lot of money. It could help a lot of trail work as well.”
Garibaldi Provincial Park has lots of room for new trails, which would protect existing trails from overuse, he said.
Ireland also pointed to staffing issues in BC Parks and noted some of the money could have bolstered park rosters.
What the pass system costs
According to the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, under which BC Parks falls, the budget for the pilot project in the summer 2020 season was $900,000, with $675,000 of that dedicated to more resources on the ground, including signage, infrastructure and increased park operator staffing support.
For the summer and winter 2021/22 season, the budget for the pilot is estimated at about $1.3 million, including the implementation of the Day Use Pass at Joffre Lakes Provincial Park, the Winter Day Use Pass at Mount Seymour Provincial Parks, as well as the move to an internally built Day Use Pass system that allows BC Parks to more easily respond to feedback.
"This funding helped enhance the overall park experience for visitors, not just aspects related to the Day Use Pass," said a ministry spokesperson in an email to The Squamish Chief.
Ireland stressed members of the organization are not antagonistic to BC parks.
“We support them as an organization. We recognize that they have challenges in achieving their mission, and our aim is to build a positive relationship with BC Parks.”
Ultimately, the group says parks and trails are a public resource and provide a free way for folks to get out and enjoy nature, something we have learned through the pandemic is central to human health.
For its part, the Ministry of Environment spokesperson said the organization appreciates groups like FOGPS that are working with BC Parks.
"In particular, having partnered with the FOGS on collaborative projects in the past, BC Parks welcomes the opportunities presented through recreation user engagements such as theirs — and others — to learn and adapt to the increasingly complex challenge of striking an appropriate balance among the interests of public recreation, ecosystem integrity and Indigenous reconciliation as individuals’ and groups’ desire to access the wilderness expands.
Another BC Parks survey coming
The ministry spokesperson said it welcomes feedback on the Day Use Pass pilots and will be launching a public survey on the program this summer.
Due to feedback on previous surveys, this next survey is being co-designed with support from outside research and evaluation professionals and will be issued with extended reach, to all members of the public, the spokesperson said.
"Regarding the FOGS survey, BC Parks is currently reviewing its design, results and interpretation, checking these against survey best practices before making a decision to include it as an input to our feedback on the Day Use Pass program,” the spokesperson said.
To the suggestion that BC Parks needs to build more trails, the spokesperson said that the ministry agrees with the FOGS that, in a basic sense, more trail infrastructure leads to more recreation capacity.
"However, this recreation capacity must be balanced with the ecologic carrying capacity of the protected areas containing the trails. It is this very balance — and demonstrated overuse and declines in conservation values observed in high-use parks such as Joffre Lakes — that is lead [ing] BC Parks to explore visitor use management interventions such as the Day Use Pass," the spokesperson said.
BC Parks’ current recreation trail system is over 6,000 kilometres; in addition, the Recreation Sites and Trails BC system consists of over 20,000 km of recreation trails.
The ministry spokesperson said that although new to BC Parks, active management of day use numbers is common in other parks where demand exceeds capacity.
"If allowed to remain unmanaged, overuse has adverse impacts on the ecological values that make these areas special," the spokesperson said.
"Conservation and positive recreation experiences are both very important to BC Parks, so we have to ensure these values coexist."
In direct response to the growing demand that both BC Parks and groups like FOGS are witnessing and seeking to support, during the next three years, the spokesperson noted that BC Parks is investing $21.5 million to improve outdoor recreation, including adding new campsites and trails and upgrading facilities.
The investment is part of an $83-million increase to BC Parks’ operating and capital budgets.
In addition, $2 million in infrastructure maintenance funding is being invested in all regions of the province for high-use trail and facility improvement projects.