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New fees for ‘front country’ recreation in provincial parks but no new funding for backcountry safety, awareness

The new model for recreation in provincial parks was unveiled by Water, Land and Air Protection Minister Joyce Murray this week, including parking fees at the Garibaldi trailhead, Brandywine Falls, Alice Lake, Shannon Falls, Murrin and Porteau Cove provincial parks.

There may also be new recreation and education services offered in some parks this year, including canoe and kayak rentals, rock-climbing instruction, nature appreciation tours, bird watching, wildlife viewing, snowshoeing and accommodation in yurts.

"Our new recreation model will put park, fish and wildlife recreation services on a sound financial footing," Murray said in a release. "This new model is about providing a better quality recreation experience in B.C. Fees and licences will be dedicated to maintaining and enhancing park, fish, and wildlife services."

All fees and licence revenue raised from fish and wildlife recreation will be dedicated to those services and all fees and licence revenue raised in provincial parks will remain in the parks system. Previously, most of these funds were returned to general revenue.

The new model is intended to provide more resources to maintain campsites and day-use areas in provincial parks and provide "world-class hunting and angling," according to the release.

"Government retains full public control over all of these services, and conservation of environmental values will continue to be our overriding concern," Murray said.

The province will also maintain the provincial hatchery program and Habitat Conservation Trust Fund, increase public involvement through recreation advisory committees, look at establishing a parks foundation or trust, and develop a broad, long-term recreation strategy.

The new model is based on recommendations from an independent Recreation Stewardship Panel appointed last May and headed by Bruce Strachan. One of the catalysts for the panel and its recommendations, according to Murray, was that while the size of B.C.’s parks system has doubled in the last decade, funding has declined over that same period. There is currently a facilities maintenance backlog of about $40 million in B.C. parks.

"The panel… believes that services which are required to support recreation should be primarily paid for by the users," Strachan wrote in the introduction to the panel’s report. "The panel is recommending a special purpose account be established to receive existing and new user fee revenue. This non-lapsing interest-bearing account will provide a direct, transparent funding source for the Ministry’s recreation services. As well, the process for setting fees must become more efficient, responsive to operational needs and reflect the panel’s principles. To achieve this, the panel is recommending the authority to set fees be delegated to the Minister."

The panel’s mandate was to look at "front country" recreation in provincial parks, which is defined as any park where there is road access. Strachan, in an interview last month prior to the release of the report, had no comments about commercial ski operations within provincial parks other than to say, "we’re looking at areas that currently don’t have ski areas in parks because we’re already deriving a revenue from the operations that are within parks."

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