Adrienne Tanner is a Vancouver journalist who writes about civic affairs
A couple of summers back, we had a special visit from some dear friends who now live in Singapore. They love Asia but pine for the Canadian wilderness; the mountains, wildlife and solitude that you don’t get living in a large metropolis.
We rented a house in Pemberton and promised them a wilderness hike to one of the most stunning destinations in British Columbia – Joffre Lakes.
We hadn’t been there for years and were gobsmacked at what we found. The parking lot was jammed and cars were lined up along the Duffy Lake Road. The trail itself was bumper to bumper with hikers, something you expect on the Grouse Grind, but not on a path almost 200 kilometres north of Vancouver.
It was hard to catch a view through the sea of knapsacks, and whatever wildlife had once been in the area had long since fled. Birdsong was drowned out by laughter from dozens of people snapping selfies. A few even shared their favourite tunes.
We apologized to our friends and vowed never to return. This summer, the Joffre Lake Provincial Park is closed because of COVID-19 – there would be no way to physically distance on a trail that heavily travelled. A study last year by the park and Lil’wat and N’Quatqua First Nations on the overcrowding situation found the number of park visitors had increased by 168 per cent since 2010.
Proposed strategies to control congestion will include towing illegally parked cars and running a shuttle to the trailhead during peak times. The report also raises the possibility of moving to day-use permits to limit the numbers and I’m all for it.
The hiking craze has exploded over the past decade and crowds are ruining the serenity of being offline and alone in nature. Some people blame Instagram, which has fuelled a sort of competition for the ultimate wilderness beauty shot. But it is also simply the natural consequence of a growing population discovering easily accessible trails and falling in love with hiking.
As a lifelong hiker, I can scarcely criticize them. But as much as I hate the idea of not being able to strap on my boots and head out on a whim, I believe it’s time to limit the numbers on our popular trails. It’s being tried this year in six popular provincial parks – Cypress, Mount Seymour, Garibaldi, Golden Ears, Mount Robson and Stawamus Chief – which are now reopening after shutting down because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This will help preserve trails, vegetation and the outdoor experience. Day passes are free and limited to a maximum of eight per person, which is also a good thing. If you’ve ever been stuck on a trail behind a mass of people from a hiking club, you’ll know what I mean.
Although this will ease the crowds on provincial park trails, it won’t help municipalities situated near popular trails on Crown land. They have been doubly strained this summer because COVID-19 concerns forced the closing of so many provincial park trails.
Lion’s Bay has been besieged with people parking illegally, to visit the municipality’s tiny beach, and hikers seeking access to the Tunnel Bluffs trail. One resident told me that the trail, which peaked in popularity after a glowing review on an outdoor website, is easy to find; “just follow the toilet paper.”
In 2018, similar parking problems and safety issues on the Quarry Rock hike (some days as many as 100 people would gather on the bald-faced lookout point), forced Deep Cove to limit the numbers of cars and hikers. This summer it is closed because of COVID-19. Parking has been reduced at Sasamat Lake because the traffic was too heavy.
Crowds and illegal parkers have strained relations between these small communities and outsiders trying to access the outdoors. As Metro grows, pressure on our parks and hiking trails will only increase. So, don’t be upset if your car gets towed because you parked somewhere you shouldn’t. It’s the only tool available for tiny municipalities that can’t handle the weekend surge.
Vancouver hikers seeking a nature experience will have to rise early to book a park trail or drive further to places less travelled. That’s just life in the big city.
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