Backcountry safety as Olympic Legacy? 

North Vancouver businessman campaigning to divert proposed park user fees into search and rescue, avalanche bulletin and education

This Friday, Nov. 29, the government-appointed B.C. Recreation Stewardship Panel will present its final report to Premier Gordon Campbell and his cabinet regarding the ongoing management and funding of the provincial park system.

The report is expected to include a number of recommendations that were in the draft report released Sept. 15, including the creation of a user-fee system requiring park visitors to pay admission into parks on top of the usual fees for camping.

The problem, according to North Vancouver resident and backcountry enthusiast Richard Kinar, is that none of the money raised from user fees has been earmarked for search and rescue teams, the Canadian Avalanche Association bulletin, or basic backcountry education.

The issue is compounded further by the Vancouver 2010 Olympic bid – if the numbers at Salt Lake City are any indication, B.C. could see mountain tourism double in the years leading up to and following the Winter Games.

"There were so many groups that haven’t been included (by the Recreation Stewardship Panel) – cyclists, hikers, backcountry skiers and boarders, that kind of thing," said Kinar. "I mean where is this money going to?

"I’m calling for minimum standards within the park system. For all the backcountry users, they would have to assume if user fees were introduced, they would have to get something for that fee."

Kinar wants to see a portion of user fees go towards provincial search and rescue teams, as well as the Canadian Avalanche Association’s avalanche bulletin.

While the Vancouver 2010 Olympic bid will likely lead to an increase in the number of backcountry users in the province, Kinar also sees the Games as an excellent opportunity to draw international attention to backcountry awareness and safety issues. He even sees the potential to turn funding for search and rescue and the avalanche bulletin into an Olympic legacy.

"It’s the perfect time to be talking about this. The stewardship panel is planning our future, the Olympics are also our future. I also know that the Europeans take outdoor safety very seriously, it’s part of their psyche. A lot of their ski areas are in avalanche areas… and this is the kind of thing (Olympic delegates) are going to be interested in," said Kinar.

The North Shore Search and Rescue Team, which serves North Vancouver and the North Shore, is the busiest volunteer team Canada, and gets up to two calls a week to find or rescue people in the mountains. Like all search and rescue teams, they fundraise to purchase equipment and all searches are conducted by volunteers.


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