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British Columbians see BC Parks having role in economic recovery: survey

CPAWS advocates for more provincial funding
panorama ridge by alyssa noel
Panorama Ridge in Garibaldi Provincial Park is just one of the major tourist attractions in B.C. Parks. Photo by Alyssa Noel

How much money do you spend when you visit a provincial park in a different community? 

A new online survey from the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) found that 80 per cent of respondents spent more than $50 in or around a provincial park on a recent trip while 53 per cent estimated that number to be more than $100. 

“Over half the people surveyed spent at least $100,” said Jessie Corey, terrestrial conservation manager, with CPAWS. “Then a certain number spent over $1,000. That captures people who are travelling further away from their homes … Wells Gray is a good example. People will drive to Clearwater, buy food, alcohol, souvenirs from local shops.”

The survey—which polled 979 British Columbians from across the province between Sept. 3 and 8—aimed to look at how people in the province view B.C. Parks’ role in the economy. 

To that end, it found that 79 per cent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that tourism to provincial parks plays an important role in B.C.’s economic recovery from the pandemic. 

“It was great to see that line being drawn from parks to economic recovery,” Corey said. “For members of the public not working in this field, it was great to see them see that opportunity.” 

On top of that, 94 per cent said they “agreed or strongly agreed” that local businesses near provincial parks benefit from park visitors. 

Now at the tail end of a busy summer for parks, the survey also asked about future travel plans. A whopping 89 per cent said they were “more or as likely” to travel to a provincial park in the next year, compared to 2019. Also, 70 per cent said they were likely to travel within the province in the next year. 

Those numbers were already on the rise before the pandemic. In 2014/15, 21 million people visited a provincial park. That jumped to 26 million in 2018/19.

While the numbers haven’t been released for this season, Google mobility data indicates a 150- to 200-per-cent increase in visits to parks through the spring and summer this year, Corey said. 

“Part of it is people are looking to explore places closer to home, but people were visiting parks more anyway,” she said. “That combination is what we’re seeing right now with this explosion to visitation.” 

CPAWS, meanwhile, is hoping that the provincial government will take note of these numbers and consider giving more funding to B.C. Parks as part of its economic recovery plan. 

“We do want people to get into parks,” she said. “It’s what connects people to a desire to protect provincial parks … We’re hoping the province is going to take this opportunity to listen to what British Columbians are saying in these surveys and put money into parks.”

B.C. Parks, which is responsible for managing the sixth largest park system in the world, ranks last on expenditure among the provinces, at just $2.80 per park hectare, compared to, for instance, $30 a hectare in Alberta.