Joffre Lakes visitors react angrily to shuttle bus wait

BC Parks staff experience verbal abuse after bus is delayed on Canada Day long weekend

The new Joffre Lakes visitor management plan ran into problems on its first long weekend in operation.

The Canada Day weekend marked the official launch of the plan, which includes the use of a shuttle to ferry visitors between the trailhead and Duffey Lake Park, providing additional parking capacity on busy days.

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But a provincial spokesperson, confirmed that an "unforeseen issue" led to a delay in the shuttle bus arriving at the Duffey Lake parking lot on Sunday, June 30.

"This caused schedule delays and therefore some visitors were frustrated and angry (verbally) towards staff," wrote a spokesperson, in an email to Pique.

While the spokesperson did not identify the target of the abuse, managing the shuttle bus is one of the main duties of the park's two new First Nations stewards, who play an important front-line role in BC Parks' newly released strategy.

Asked if the RCMP received any complaints about the alleged verbal abuse, Inspector Kara Triance, officer in charge for the Sea to Sky RCMP Detachment, said in a release, "We are not aware of anyone being verbally abusive to the employees at Joffre Lakes, but the RCMP are committed to working with the Stl'atl'imx Nation and our Indigenous partners to ensure their stewards are supported in their duties and feel safe."

Another cornerstone of the new management plan is to crack down on illegal parking on the shoulders of the highway, which has become commonplace on busy days over the last few years.

Jennie Aikman, BC Parks regional director for the south coast, said that BC Parks staff will let people know their vehicle could be towed if it is illegally parked when things get busy. (Pique spoke to Aikman last week, prior to learning of the shuttle bus incident.)

"The RCMP will be on site to also inform park visitors that there is no parking on the highway," she added.

Yet some, including Village of Pemberton Mayor Mike Richman, have voiced concerns about how visitors will get back to their vehicles if they are towed, as there is no cell service in the park.

As part of its plan, BC Parks will add a satellite phone near the trailhead later this summer. But local MLA Jordan Sturdy said he believes cell service should have been established at Joffre at the start of this summer.

"My preference would have been a cellular service installed," he said, adding that he is hopeful that improved communication with the public, the new parking that is being built (a total of 200 spaces will be added this summer), and the shuttle system should have the desired affect on park management.

Towing, said Sturdy, should be the "last option."

Aikman said that BC Parks has a plan in place to help people recover their vehicles in the event they are towed, but declined to provide details on it.

BC Parks' decision to go with Parkbus, a not-for-profit bus operator that will operate every Saturday, Sunday and holiday Monday throughout the summer and will cost $10 per person (round trip), has also drawn criticism.

"There is still a fee associated with it ... but that fee is now going to Parkbus ... instead of to the park itself," said Ngaio Hotte, a PhD candidate at the University of British Columbia's (UBC) faculty of forestry who has publicly called for day-use fees in busy BC Parks as a way to manage surging demand and to fund the park system.

Hotte added that she wouldn't be surprised to see day-use fees in the future, adding that it appears BC Parks is taking a cautious approach to making changes.

"This may have been an interim measure while they are getting organized or getting people used to the idea of things being done differently there," she said.

Aikman added that current strategies represent short-term actions aimed at improving park operations.

"We're going to be developing a review of how things went (in the summer) in the fall, and we're going to be developing a long-term visitor management strategy for Joffre that is going to be released at some time in 2020," said Aikman.

Insp. Triance said police were "very pleased" with the level of engagement and cooperation of BC Parks on Joffre adding that officers did not receive any complaints over the past weekend regarding parking on the highway or unsafe driving conditions due to parked vehicles on the shoulder of the highway.

"The RCMP do not have the capacity to address hundreds of vehicles parked on the highway," she said.

"However, with a parking management plan in place, we are partnering with BC Parks to coordinate our response, that will also include RCMP enforcement at times."

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