A new survey conducted by the B.C. chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) has found that most people are expecting parks to remain busy this winter—and they worry about how prepared people are.
The survey, conducted between Dec. 2 and 6 with 1,058 people responding from across the province, found that 58 per cent of people anticipate parks to be busier this season.
“We started to see some anecdotal evidence of this from some of the online forums and people’s firsthand experience going to parks,” said Tori Ball, terrestrial campaigner with CPAWS B.C. “We wanted to get a sense of if it was a trend beyond that small sample size—if it was going on across the province.”
Twenty four per cent of respondents said that travel restrictions would prompt them to try a new winter activity this season. The most popular new activities listed were cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
“The results show people are looking at taking up new activities,” Ball said. “I was in Source for Sports in Squamish [recently] and they had almost no cross-country skis left in their entire inventory—which was [due to] interest and shipping delays spurred by COVID.”
To that end, 70 per cent of people who answered the survey also said they were concerned about other park visitors being underprepared for winter conditions.
“Likely that number is so high based on how many search-and-rescue stories we saw covered in the media over the summer,” Ball said. “It’s still on people’s minds.”
The other major findings were 64 per cent of people were concerned about limited enforcement of public health and park rules and 60 per cent were worried about search-and-rescue teams becoming too busy.
“What was surprising is how many solutions people have in mind for being more safe and welcoming, whether that’s education for people on how to be more prepared themselves or more staff, better signage, and [information on] the risks people are taking and how to minimize those risks,” she added.
While the summer might have seen a massive spike in backcountry use—with plenty of people getting into trouble and having to call search and rescue—there is concern the stakes can be higher in winter.
“The shorter days, the weather can change at any time, it’s more severe with dropping temperatures … We want to make sure everyone has the knowledge to get outside,” Ball said.
CPAWS is calling on more funding for B.C.’s parks system to better handle the influx of visitors—who, even before COVID-19, were heading into BC Parks in steadily increasing numbers.
“BC Parks’ budget is way behind in the resources that are needed to keep up the infrastructure and properly staff these areas,” Ball said. “We’re hoping when the next budget is released, it will have an increase in the funding to BC Parks to allow it to hire more rangers and year-round and seasonal staff—and look to expand in areas.”
There is reason to be hopeful that the situation could improve, she said.
“We see that’s been part of the mandate handed to the Ministry of Environment from [B.C.] Premier [John] Horgan,” she said. “We are excited to see that and work with them to make it happen.”