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January 6, 2021

On July 22nd last year, in a news release, the minister of environment George Heyman introduced a day-use pass pilot system for six of B.C.’s most popular provincial parks.

Recreation organizations, including my organization Backcountry BC, with over 6,700 members, have had wide-ranging discussions about the day-use pass pilot program. Those discussions found serious problems with the program and provided further scrutiny of long-standing park management concerns in the two North Shore provincial parks. In a report released January 2nd by the Federation of Mountain Clubs of BC or FMCBC, the provincial recreation organization suggests that the $800,000 spent implementing the day pass program not only contributed nothing to park infrastructure, but it also obstructed work for an entire season on BC's busiest trails. Here are selected quotes from the report:

Due to BC Parks focusing efforts on the Day Pass system, trail work contractors could not submit bids until late summer or fall, resulting in contractor crews delaying the start of work on the trails until late October or early November.

Two high-traffic trails – the Howe Sound Crest trail and the Black Mountain Plateau trail system – were scheduled to receive further trail enhancements by BC Parks in 2020. In November 2020, bridge and boardwalk materials were delivered to Cypress Provincial Park via helicopter and then manually hauled on-site. The work immediately came to a halt one or two days afterwards when winter appeared.

The full report can be read here: https://cloudburst.mountainclubs.org/2020/12/trail-news-southwest-bc-trails-and-access-committee-report/

The report says the irony is that $800,000 could have been spent on improving existing trails, many of which are in poor condition, and dispersing people throughout the North Shore parks. 

In 2019, the trail contractor working on the Howe Sound Crest trail only received approval to continue work on the multi-year project in September. The work got shut down by heavy rainfall almost immediately. If approval had been obtained in spring, the work would have benefited from dry conditions in summer. Trenching for a cable at Cypress Resort was also not approved until September. The ditch promptly washed-out wasting money and causing delay. 

On October 21st, the North Shore News ran an op-ed article by Jay MacArthur of the FMCBC about the poor condition of trails in North Shore provincial parks. The headline referred to “ankle-twisting trails” and the article featured a picture of a hiker on a mass of twisted tree roots that apparently is the walking surface of a trail, presumably the Howe Sound Crest trail. Paradoxically, Mr. MacArthur implied that the poor condition of the trails was the reason why the province implemented the day-use pass pilot program not the pandemic.

As part of the government’s response to COVID-19, BC Parks initiated a pilot project to restrict the number of hikers on popular trails. Although COVID was a catalyst, the larger issue seemed to be that trails to Joffre Lakes, Garibaldi Lake, Mount Seymour and the Howe Sound Crest Trail cannot withstand the onslaught of thousands of hikers on any given day. (Those hikers ended up going elsewhere, which placed a burden on local trails built and maintained by volunteers.) The day-pass reservation system – which cost the province almost a million dollars and was universally disliked by anyone who tried to use it – was pretty much an admission of failure that BC Parks has not adequately maintained the trails within its boundaries nor constructed new trails that could disperse hikers.

From my own correspondence with park officials, I was informed that work on the long-overdue Pinecone Burke Provincial Park master plan was delayed for months by the day-use pass system implementation. 

Backcountry BC conducted a poll that asked the question, do you support continuing the day-use pass pilot system? The poll ran on its Facebook group beginning October 18th and is running at 4:1 against. The day-use pass pilot is very unpopular with the public. The poll can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/BackcountryBC/permalink/678605226098886/

I am also a director of the B.C. Mountaineering Club or BCMC in the position of cabins and trails. Last February, I approached Jennie Aikman, regional director of the South Coast region about entering into a volunteer's partnership agreement or VPA with BC Parks for sections of hiking trails within Cypress Provincial Park. The club has safety concerns about trails within the park including the Howe Sound Crest trail. I outlined the safety concerns with maps, detailed descriptions and work plans to BC Parks. The office said they had not previously heard of safety concerns even though an earlier complaint had been filed about a collision between a skier and hiking party that resulted in a broken ski.

On the busy Hollyburn Mountain hiker's trail, which is a heavily used winter route in Cypress Provincial Park, backcountry skiers are moving downhill at much higher speeds than snowshoers and hikers. They come together on a narrow section of the trail about one kilometer in length. The trail is barely a meter wide. There have been altercations between user groups and the narrow trail doesn’t allow for physical distancing of 2 meters. Dogs on and off leash further compound the crowding.

On the Howe Sound Crest trail, which is a high elevation trail along the divide between Howe Sound and Capilano River, there are no trail markers or defined pathway in long stretches of exposed and difficult terrain. Trail signage says the trail is in poor condition. Last year, I witnessed a search for a hiker who strayed off the trail near The Lions and went missing overnight. By reports, the hiker lost his way. By my estimate, tens of thousands of dollars in aviation fuel were spent by rescue organizations in looking for the hiker who eventually walked out to safety at Capilano dam the next day.

The VPA was intended to remedy safety concerns to avoid incidents of the type mentioned. I was informed last year by Elyse Curley, the acting area supervisor that the COVID-19 response of park closures and then park reopening had prevented staff from looking at the VPA. When I finally met with a park ranger, to go over the work plan there was already snow on the ground. Despite that, we scheduled a work party to get the most egregious safety problem addressed on the Hollyburn trail. It was canceled almost immediately because of a provincial health order and the next day snow fell in earnest. We still have no VPA and none of the identified safety concerns have been rectified. 

Last September, after an inquiry from Chris Ludwig, president of the BCMC, the regional director of parks for the south coast region, Jennie Aikman said she wanted to meet with myself and other club leaders to review the day-use pass pilot program, to go over the day pass approach in more detail and seek our feedback. The meeting never occurred. By email, we asked about the methodology, science and reasoning behind the term "carrying capacity" as applied to the parks affected by the pass pilot. Ms. Aikman replied,

We used data such as historical trail use, facility capacities (e.g., parking lots), and total park visitation to come up with capacities for the parks and/or park trails. 

Determining a visitor carrying capacity is not an exact science and is tied to the desired conditions and unique attributes of a given protected area.

I searched almost all the strategic directions and policies pertaining to BC Parks looking for references to "carrying capacity". I looked at the Future Strategy, the Conservation Policy, the Management Planning Process Manual, the Park Act, the Protected Areas of BC Act, the Zoning Framework and the affected park master plans. These are the documents that yourself, Mr. Standen as assistant deputy minister of BC Parks referred me to. Only the Stawamus Chief master plan mentioned an objective to "promote the principle of carrying capacity" but no mention of how that is achieved.

I have located a definition of carrying capacity in a BC Parks’ blog:

Carrying capacity can be used as a broad term to refer to ecological carrying capacity, facility capacity, or visitor capacity. In BC Parks, we look at all three components to determine if our parks are within their capacity, or if management strategies need to be implemented to ensure the park is well managed and cared for.

The blog can be found here: https://engage.gov.bc.ca/bcparksblog/2019/09/19/carrying-capacity-and-bc-parks/

Mr. Ludwig, citing terminology in the parks blog, replied to Ms. Aikman’s explanation as follows:

[The] explanation of the methodology and determination of Carrying Capacity does not make sense and is incongruent with the information at the link provided.   

For instance, determining Carrying Capacity for a given area by parking availability and historical use is not in any way related to the qualitative values of trail capacity, wildlife impact, vegetation impact, user experience, facilities, etc. which are critically cited as the primary determinants and values associated with the term "carrying capacity".   

Simply put, [the] explanation is illogical.

In Golden Ears provincial park, vehicle parking spaces was used to determine capacity. Individual passes were not required. In Stawamus Chief provincial park, parking was again used to determine capacity for the Backside Trail but for individuals not vehicles. The Backside is a popular trail that ascends Stawamus Chief using lengthy staircases. However, parking is virtually unlimited because foot traffic can walk from Squamish and there is virtually unlimited parking available at Darrell Bay and along Mamquam forest service road. All that putting limits on the Backside Trail did was to displace usage to the adjacent Slhanay Trail, which recorded an 142% increase in visitation according to Recreation Sites and Trails BC in a report dated November 23rd.

The full report can be read here: https://backcountrybc.ca/document-category-layout/sea-to-sky-trail-summary-2020-11-23/viewdocument/353

In early December, myself and others in recreation groups were told that the province was planning to implement a winter day pass pilot program for Cypress and Mt. Seymour Provincial Parks. The Federation of Mountain Clubs then wrote to Honourable George Heyman, the minister of environment:

The [day-use pass pilot] experience from the summer has not been properly evaluated and there has been no proper public consultation about the pilot-program.

The access restrictions this summer applied almost exclusively to South Coast provincial parks, which are the most accessible to the large urban populations in the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley. As a result, as data shows, the day-pass pilot program forced people to go to other locations that could not handle the surge in visitors...

The reservation system used this summer was very awkward as it required people to book at 6 am on the day of a trip. We had many negative comments from our members about this issue. This did not allow people enough time to properly plan or to send trip details to a trusted contact.

Given the uncertainty, people looked for alternate destinations. Also, because the reservation system did not permit transfer or re-assignment of passes when people failed to visit the park or departed early, compared to other recreation areas, the provincial parks were often under-utilized.

I subsequently spoke with Dylan Eyers, section head for the Lower Mainland parks on December 9th about the implementation plan for the winter pass. I was surprised when on December 21st environment minister George Heyman was quoted by North Shore News saying, “the province isn’t considering bringing back the day pass system introduced to manage crowds in the summertime.” Apparently, it took Russell Chamberlain, Cypress Resort president and general manager by surprise, too. On December 24th, News 1130 published an article that quoted Mr. Chamberlain as saying “he had expected the pass system to return until he found out about the cancelled program Dec. 14.”. Is there a direct phone line between Mr. Chamberlain and the North Vancouver office of BC Parks? Until Mr. Heyman upended them, it appears the resort and parks office were reading from the same script. We have seen the same marching in lockstep on policy and programs between the mountain resorts and BC Parks before.

I wrote to yourself, Mr. Standen, on December 7th, 2016 about the backcountry access closure in Cypress Provincial Park from 10 PM to 9 AM. You will recall the BAC was to open at 7 AM but the resort peremptorily changed it to 9 AM. In that dispute, BC Parks sided with the mountain resort. That was until, after many months had elapsed, a meeting was held in summer. At the meeting, it was clear that BC Parks was incorrectly giving precedence to the resort’s park use permit over the Park Act and park master plan. I wrote in November 2017 on Facebook, 

The FMCBC was lynch pin for restoring access through the BAC. I would personally highlight the work of advocate [MB] as lead on the issue in bringing it to fruition. I think it was the critical meeting in July between BC Parks, FMCBC, the clubs on the committee, e.g., British Columbia Mountaineering Club, Alpine Club of Canada, Varsity Outdoor Club of UBC, Friends of Cypress Provincial Park and North Shore Dawn Patrol (a Facebook group administered by Steve Jones) when the logjam of misunderstanding was broken. It was [MB's] dogged and legalistic propositions on an item-by-item basis going through the Park Act, park master plan, Park Use Permit and policy that finally brought the rights of the public to prevail over the wrong interpretation of policy that was fostered by Cypress Resorts and supported by BC Parks. The interpretation of which, I firmly believe, was never about public safety but solely about parking by park users who were not paying guests of the resort. Finally, park elders such as Mel Turner and Ken Farquarson of the Williams Commission added their historical knowledge of the issue to the voices of the FMCBC to confirm the public right of access through the controlled recreation area.

Last summer, we received notice of a gravity thrill ride called Mountain Coaster that was being installed in Cypress Provincial Part by Cypress Mountain Resort. Barry Janyk, executive director of the FMCBC had spoken with BC Parks about the attraction in late September. Mr. Janyk summarized the conversation:

Dylan [Eyers] was pretty clear with me today that BC Parks “in house expertise” indicated the project – for whatever reasons – did not require an EIA, especially with the suggestion the infrastructure would be removed post season making it just a “temporary” addition.  Also claimed “no objections” from the Squamish Nation. 

He did say there are clever folks working in the background carefully reviewing the opportunities available in the categories so as to develop even more aspects for summer fun in the sun...  There are apparently more coming, and I suppose we should enquire what those new activities might be given cumulative effects.

Chris Ludwig noted on Facebook, on September 22nd:

While [the mountain coaster] does look extremely fun, I wonder if there was a public consultation process, proper wildlife and environmental studies and impact assessment performed. When was this proposal put forward and what was the process for approval? What were the discussions, negotiations and determined contractual agreements between the crown and the resort? How about an environmental assessment certificate from the BC EAO?

Will the BC Parks’ day pass program and Covid-19 policies apply to Cypress Mountain Resort's new mountain coaster too?

How would [mountain coaster] patrons impact park carrying capacity and will there now be less day passes available for hikers and backcountry users?

If the day pass program does not apply to [mountain coaster] patrons, are they receiving an exemption to policy? Is this permitted under the current Park Use permit and Cypress Provincial Park master plan and/or has the permit been amended without the required public consultation?

Other non-profit groups and individuals must go through the public Front Counter BC multi-layered application process and must face years of red tape, conditions, public consultation and environmental restrictions.

Note the phrase in the article "The first phase of construction is underway". The rubber stamps of approval were fast at work in the shadows on this one.

It seems to [us] at Backcountry BC, that once again, this is another graphic illustration of BC Parks and the Environment Ministry having two sets rules. One rule is the word "No" and piles of red tape for the general public, and the other rule is the word "Yes" and a wide-open road for the rich, business and political class.

The article referred to can be found here: https://dailyhive.com/vancouver/cypress-mountain-coaster-ride

One wonders whether the North Vancouver office of BC Parks is independent of the North Shore mountain resorts. Recreation advocates have shown that there is a close working relationship. So close is it that the question of independence arises. Approval for the mountain coaster appears to have been rubber-stamped whilst contractors and volunteer groups performing needed trail maintenance and public safety improvements are stonewalled by delays. 

During the provincial election campaign for 2020, Pique Newsmagazine reported on October 7th that the provincial health officer never asked for parks to be closed or a day-use pass to be implemented:

“I [Jordan Sturdy, MLA for West Vancouver-Sea to Sky] posed a question to Dr. [Bonnie] Henry [provincial health officer] when we had caucus briefings with her,” he said. “I said, ‘Can you please advocate with the [environment] minister [George Heyman] to open up B.C. parks as opposed to keeping them closed because it just doesn’t serve the community well. They should be open.’ She said, ‘…the minister is not acting on my advice.’ I think, generally speaking, we need significant investment in BC Parks.”

Ultimately the day-use pass pilot program arose as a cover to implement a nebulous carrying capacity model on provincial parks that is not anchored to the Park Act, park master plans or approved park policy. A smoke screen has been erected by the North Vancouver headquarters of BC Parks saying the pilot program is essential to public health when the opposite is the case. The chief provincial health officer says the risk of viral transmission in the outdoors is infinitesimal and outdoor use is essential for physical and mental well-being. The smoke screen is to cover the fact that BC Parks has failed to provide safe trails and it is unnecessarily obstructing or failing to approve work by contractors and volunteers that would extend the trail network and provide safe hiking opportunities. The pilot program resulted in delays with park planning and in establishing a volunteer’s agreement that would provide needed public safety improvements. The pilot program has further highlighted a pattern showing the North Vancouver park office’s lack of independence from the commercial mountain resorts in North Shore provincial parks. The pilot program is a cover for restricting public use of North Shore parks in favor of enhancing profit-making activities of the resorts that require more land, parking and attractions.

The day-use pass pilot program has provided us further insight into park management in the North Shore provincial parks. Our analysis has built a strong case that a bias favoring commercial interests exists. Park managers frequently fail to act in the interests of the public and miss opportunities to improve the park system. The pilot was obstructive to trail maintenance and caused further delay in planning functions. The money spent on the pilot program was wasted. An entire season of trail maintenance appears to have been lost. The limitation in use of provincial parks was completely unnecessary and caused chaos in the park system.