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Critics question BC Parks day pass decision

Free pass system returns to Sea to Sky — but not the North Shore
Daypass - Steven Chua
The ever-popular Elfin Lakes hike in Squamish. - Steven Chua

Critics are raising questions about the province’s decision to bring a controversial day pass system back to five B.C. parks this summer.

Starting on June 23, five parks — including the Backside Trail in the Stawamus Chief Park, the trailheads at Diamond Head, Rubble Creek, and Cheakamus in Garibaldi Park, Golden Ears Park, and the Berg Lake Trail in Mount Robson, and Joffre Lakes — will require the free day passes.

However, Mount Seymour Park and Cypress Park, both on the North Shore, will not require passes, a move Jordan Sturdy, MLA for West Vancouver-Sea to Sky, questioned on Twitter after the announcement last week.

“Why do Cypress, Seymour or Porteau not need day passes but Garibaldi does?” Sturdy Tweeted at Premier John Horgan. “It makes no sense and will have the consequences of sending people into areas without recreation infrastructure, educational opportunities or supervision & spreading garbage, traffic and feces widely.”

In a follow-up interview, Sturdy said one of his biggest concerns is dispersion to other backcountry areas with no resources. “We’re far better off to do a good job in fewer spots than do a poor job in a whole bunch of places,” he said. “You have to recognize if you prohibit people from being [in one location], they’re going to go somewhere else.”

Sturdy also said the province didn’t offer enough rationale behind its decision for which parks will have day passes.

“I think the quote was, ‘based on public feedback, we decided not to do it at Cypress and Seymour.’ I didn’t understand why that was. Because people didn’t like it, they didn’t do it? I guess that’s one rationale, but I don’t think it was a particularly good one.”

Chris Ludwig, president of the BC Mountaineering Club (BCMC), likewise questioned the government’s decision not to reinstate the pass on the North Shore.

“They removed the day pass for Seymour and Cypress. OK, why? Because of public opinion? Yet, [they] kept it on the Chief and Garibaldi. That’s not methodology. That’s not rationale … Public opinion is not a rationale for management. It has nothing to do with trail capacity,” he said.

While he isn’t necessarily fully opposed to some kind of day pass system, Ludwig said there should be more transparency on why certain decisions were made.

For its part, in an email to The Chief, the Ministry of Environment said “taking into consideration last summer’s experience and the changing COVID restrictions … eliminating the summer use caps for Seymour and Cypress would allow for greater access without significant risk to user experiences or the park environment.”

B.C. Parks might be set to receive a budget increase of $83 million over the next three years, but Ludwig said there’s no new trail building currently planned to meet ever-increasing demand.

“The day pass needs to be comprehensive as a policy,” he said. “It needs to be paired with new trail building programs. That’s long overdue.”

BCMC oversees the Watersprite Lake trail, which saw an increase in use last year spike by 126 per cent, second only to Slhanay, which increased by 142 per cent.

“It will be busier [this year],” Ludwig said. “That’s why I was up there putting in stairs with 17 volunteers. [We added] a new boardwalk, drainage, and we’re putting in a huge bridge with a helicopter. We’re overbuilding, all hands on deck, to try to cope because with the day passes we are, again, going to feel it.”

The Ministry, however, did make some changes to last year’s pilot day pass program. For one, users can now book their day pass at 7 a.m. the day prior to arrival, rather than 6 a.m. the day of their trip. Youth under 18 will also not be required to have a pass when accompanied by a parent or guardian with a pass.

Passes will be required until Oct. 22. They’re available here