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Survey sheds light on demand for B.C. parks during pandemic

Ninety-four per cent of respondents say access to nature important for mental health
Wedgemount lake in 2018. That hike, located in Garibaldi Provincial Park, remains closed. Photo by Alyssa Noel

the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) recently released survey results that shed light on British Columbians' desire to get outside and into B.C. parks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Around 1,000 people from across the province logged on to complete the survey over the May Long Weekend.

It found that when asked about top priorities for lifting restrictions, 75 per cent of respondents chose "re-open all parks and wilderness areas," ahead of other priorities like dentists, healthcare services, general retail, and salons and barber shops.

On top of that, 94 per cent of respondents said that access to nature is important to their mental health.

"It definitely tells us that people really want to get outside," said Tori Ball, terrestrial campaigner with CPAWS. "They want to be able to visit nature, whether it's by themselves or with family and friends now that we can have a little bubble. There's such an appetite for people wanting access to parks."

Other highlights of the survey include: 91 per cent of people said that, despite the pandemic, they were equally or more likely to visit a B.C. provincial park now compared to before; 71 per cent agreed the province should use some economic stimulus funds to invest in BC Parks; and 73 per cent said they supported increased funding in BC Parks to support the health and safety of visitors.

Respondents also said they were more concerned about overcrowded trails than contracting coronavirus.

Overall, Ball said, the survey points to British Columbians supporting increased funding for the parks system.

"I think [the pandemic] has already drawn attention to how much people value parks," she said. "The BC Parks website crashing [when campsite reservations opened up] isn't a one-off experience. But the volume they saw in one day was incredible. That shows how excited people are to get outside. We are hoping this will draw attention to BC Parks and the resources and staffing levels and how the parks could remain open safely."

The Sea to Sky corridor (identified as Squamish Lillooet in the survey) represented about 1.6 per cent of respondents, while the area makes up 0.92 per cent of the province's population.

Locally, Garibaldi Provincial Park and Joffre Lakes Provincial Park—two extremely popular destinations—have yet to reopen with no date for reopening listed.

"For Joffre, it might be a nice opportunity for that area to have a bit of a break from the usage it's been seeing and for planners to have some time to make sure it's got good systems in place when it does reopen," Ball said. "Garibaldi is the heart of the system. It's such a beautiful area. It's so big; it provides recreation for so many. It would be a real tragedy if they can't reopen a park that's so important."

In an email, a spokesperson from the Ministry of Environment said the decision to reopen parks is not related to funding. However, they did say high-use parks require greater numbers of staff, service and in-person visitor management.

"Some of our most popular parks, including Garibaldi and Joffre Lakes, remain closed because they were experiencing high visitor volumes," the email said. "The remaining parks that currently remain closed, could be opened as appropriate throughout the summer, when we can ensure the safety of visitors and staff and the protection of the environment."

In the end, Ball said she hopes one silver lining of the pandemic can be more attention placed on the needs of B.C.'s parks and wilderness.

"The park system was so overwhelmed in these past few weeks," she says. "We're really hoping attention has been drawn to it about how badly it needs resources and what a great opportunity it would be to stimulate B.C.'s economy by hiring people across the province."