With the provincial government announcing Wednesday that some parks will be open starting May 14 and available for camping starting June 1, Squamish recreationalists have been left wondering what the summer holds for in the Sea to Sky Corridor.
The answer is that for now, not much will change.
"Opening parks and campgrounds safely means some closures will temporarily remain in place for specific parks or park areas, services and facilities," a BC Parks spokesman told The Chief May 7.
Parks that see high visitor volumes, such as those in the Sea to Sky Corridor, make physical distancing difficult and also cause a heavier environmental impact, the spokesperson said in an email.
"We are keeping these parks closed for now in order to keep staff, park operators, park visitors and the parks themselves safe, and to ensure small communities are not overwhelmed by people who are ignoring advice to avoid non-essential travel."
Park openings are listed on the BC Parks website and sorted by region, with Squamish parks being in the South Coast.
"Our park operators are also a key part of discussions, so we continue to work with them to ensure they can staff up to get the parks back up and running," the spokesperson added.
"We know it has been challenging and we want to thank everyone for their patience during these unprecedented times."
Here's what we know so far in terms of the Sea to Sky:
Recreation Sites in the corridor, meaning those rustic sites found down gravel forest roads that lack amenities, are open for day-use starting May 14, but not for camping.
Re Alice Lake — Opening on May 14 for day-use.
Brackendale Eagles Provincial Park — Opening on May 14 for day-use.
Stawamus Chief — Closed. No opening date scheduled.
Murrin Park — Closed. No opening date scheduled.
Shannon Falls — Closed. No opening date scheduled.
Garibaldi Park — Closed. No opening date scheduled.
Joffre Lakes — Closed. No opening date scheduled.
Duffey Lake — Closed. No opening date scheduled.
Brandywine Falls — Closed. No opening date scheduled.
Steve Jones, an active Sea to Sky Corridor outdoor adventurer and recreation blogger, told The Chief he thinks people are going to have to be patient and make a habit of checking the BC Parks site before they head out to be sure of what is open and what is not.
"I think a lot of people may have seen the press release or read the headline and it sounds like a lot of the parks are open, but in our region, in particular, most of the parks that people go to are going to be closed for a while more."
Jones notes that people need to be aware that though down in the valley, it is summer-like, up in the alpine, it is still winter and when and if things do open up in our region, people need to be prepared for that.
What Jones calls a "chronic lack of funding" of the provincial parks could be part of the reason for the late openings in our region, he said.
"The health officer has made it clear that being outside is generally a low-risk activity, [but] there is so little funding in our park system that for them to make operational changes is very challenging for them."
He said for BC Parks employees to be part of drafting policy, mapping and putting up signs on top of other duties is a lot of work.
"And there are more parks than rangers. With single rangers responsible for multiple parks and you think of all the trails and all the parks — it is a lot of work to actually close things down or open them up. I think that is part of what we are seeing."
Back in February, some outdoor recreation advocates decried the slight decrease in provincial funding for BC Parks from $41.7 to $40.6 million.
BC Parks notes that most provincial parks in B.C. are opening for day use on May 14. And most provincial campgrounds will be open beginning June 1.
The remaining parks that attract the largest crowds could be "opened as appropriate throughout the summer when we can ensure the safety of visitors and staff and the protection of the environment."
Jones said that not having Sea to Sky parks open makes it harder to get outside and spread out.
He acknowledges the Stawamus Chief is likely a trickier situation due to the ladders and chains that people have to touch going up and down, but other parks could be opened and allow people to roam, at a distance.
"Hopefully for the majority of trails, where it is relatively easy to spread out and really disperse into the park, they are able to open those soon," he said.
He pointed to Garibaldi Provincial Park which has access points in Whistler and Squamish.
"Certainly for people in the Sea to Sky Corridor, being able to open that up again, would be great."
What Jones would like to see is a system where the parking lots remain closed, but the parks are open.
This would discourage people from coming up from the city, but would allow locals to gain access by foot or bike.
"If you closed parking to Shannon Falls, you wouldn't get a lot of people driving up from Vancouver to go there, but if you live in Squamish, you could access that park and it would be quite nice and probably not too busy," he said.
Advocacy groups weigh in
Louise Pedersen, executive director of Outdoor Recreation Council of BC said that she has heard people are disappointed about the number of parks not open in the corridor.
"We have got 60% of B.C.'s population who live in the Lower Mainland, what about these parks?" she said, noting that it has been two months since people have had access to what are their local parks.
"Cypress, Seymour, Nairn Falls, Garibaldi, Golden Ears are all remaining closed for the foreseeable time."
She recognizes that there is concern about the parks being overwhelmed, but said provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Premier John Horgan have been clear.
"Stay local, don't travel. Even within this second phase, the guidelines are very strict around that. Don't visit smaller communities, stay local. I am hoping that people will get that memo."
She added part of the new normal may have to be BC Parks taking a more active enforcement role in the parks, ensuring social distancing is possible.
Tori Ball of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, B.C. chapter, told The Chief there is a telling difference between the number of provincial parks versus the number of Metro Vancouver Regional Parks that have been able to stay open.
"BC Parks had a full shut down and now they are slowly re-opening and I think it demonstrates the difference between the resources and the staff capacity that they [BC Parks has] to manage visitors safety and have good infrastructure in place," she said.
Her organization supports recommendations in a report by consulting firm RC Strategies+PERC published in April.
The report includes eight visitor management strategies for provincial parks such as more hands-on education, having washrooms open, and "installing physical distancing prompts and directions at congestion points. Icons, stickers, and other identifiers placed on the ground or at viewpoints or near common gathering areas can prompt and remind visitors to maintain their distance."
Ball recognized that there is a management strategy being put in place for Joffre Lakes, but added management strategies for all the parks are needed now.
With the emergency funding the province is shelling out during the pandemic, some of that could go toward park management, she said.
"There's an opportunity to use some of the funding they are putting into economic recovery to create secure lasting jobs within the park system," she said.
"Park rangers and First Nation stewards who could help monitor visitors to traffic to garbage and wildlife interactions — these current situations where you need to monitor physical distancing and the number of people who are going to parks."
Students, too, could be given purposeful jobs on the trail systems, she noted.
For more on BC Parks plans go here.
**This story has been updated as new information was gathered.