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Local leaders discuss booking proposal for Joffre Lakes Provincial Park

Village of Pemberton to put forward resolution at upcoming meeting of B.C. municipalities
Busy, busy Sea to Sky leaders are looking at ways to better manage the crowds at busy Joffre Lakes Provincial Park. File photo bY Joel Barde

With visitation to Joffre Lakes Provincial Park on pace for another record year, local politicians are seeking ways to manage the crowds.

The busy park—which received close to 170,000 visitors last year and has faced issues with people throwing trash in the forest and illegally parking alongside the Duffey Lake Road in order to access it—is overseen by the province, leaving local authorities with little options when it comes affecting change.

The Village of Pemberton (VOP), however, is hoping to pressure the government into taking action.

It has submitted a resolution for next month's Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) Convention that calls for the province to develop a "trail booking and reservation system fee structure."

If supported by the majority of delegates, the resolution will be sent to the province for consideration.

Implementing the system would, however, be a major change for BC Parks, which doesn't require day reservations at any of its parks.

VOP Mayor Mike Richman said that the resolution is meant as a conversation starter, and that the Village is open to other options that BC Parks may have.

"Basically what we're saying is we need a very robust plan for that park, and if it takes reservations or other things, let's discuss it," said Richman, adding that he is concerned that the park could be shut down in the future if action isn't taken.

Last year, the province shut down access to the Keyhole Falls area due to human-wildlife conflict caused by people leaving their trash in the area. Using the area, which is located northwest of Pemberton along the Upper Lillooet Forest Service Road, is an offence under forest recreation regulation, and subject to a $115 fine.

VOP's resolution also calls for increased funding to BC Parks, to make "commensurate" to what is the provinces spends on tourism marketing.

"The marketing has been very successful," said Richman, adding that council values the contributions of tourism to Pemberton's economy. "(But) now it's about boots on the ground."

The Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) has also submitted a resolution aimed at addressing over-visitation. It calls on the province to provide additional funding to its parks and backcountry assets, and "investigate the development and addition of new recreational assets."

"The SLRD is unwavering in our commitment to ensuring our environment is protected," said SLRD chair Jack Crompton. "And although, the SRLD doesn't have the capacity or jurisdiction to take management actions of backcountry tourism, advocacy is one of the most important jobs any local government takes on."

He said there have been "positive signs" from the province and Destination British Columbia over the years regarding over-visitation, but added that he is concerned about Semaphore Lakes and Strawberry Point in addition to Joffre Lakes.

"If not managed, we risk losing access to some of these wonderful places," he said.

When asked if he will support Pemberton's call for a reservation system at the upcoming convention, Crompton said he has not made that decision yet.

Local MLA Jordan Sturdy, however, is raising concerns about the proposal. "Charging for (visiting Joffre Lakes Provincial Park) would drive people in other directions. If you're going to look at that concept, you need to look at a provincial policy around it," said Sturdy.

The change, he said, would represent a "significant" change in policy, and would likely drive visitors elsewhere.

"Frankly, it's better to concentrate use," said Sturdy.

Voicing support for the SLRD's resolution, Study said he would rather see the province invest in additional campsites and trails close to the Lower Mainland that could help divert visitors.

He said that the province should also look at ways to better accommodate the large number of visitors Joffre Lakes is seeing, particularly on busy weekends in the summer.

The current situation—in which people park alongside the highway and walk to the park when the parking lots are full—is dangerous, he said. "The issue is, is someone going to get run over?"

That said, he doesn't think the existing parking lots can be expanded to accommodate the demand. Sturdy would therefore like to see the province establish a slow-speed corridor along the highway near the entrance of the park, something he feels could increase safety.

In the end, he said that he hopes the over-regulation issue will "self-regulate" over time, as people realize that busy summer weekends are not the best times to visit the park.

"If I'm going to go to Joffre, I'm not going to go up on a Saturday in July. I'm going to go on a Tuesday in September," he said.