Weeks after reopening Mount Seymour and Cypress Mountain parks from COVID-19 restrictions, the province will begin limiting the number of visitors via a new mandatory day pass system.
Environment Minister George Heyman announced Wednesday morning that the six busiest provincial parks will require visitors to go online to obtain a free day pass before they may enter most trails, starting on July 27.
Parks affected include Cypress, Mount Seymour, Garibaldi, Golden Ears, Mount Robson and Stawamus Chief.
In a press release, Heyman cited access problems, overuse, and environmental concerns like trail widening, soil erosion, altered hydrology and damaged vegetation.
“People in B.C. love the outdoors, but some of our most popular parks are experiencing a high number of visitors, resulting in crowded facilities, packed parking lots and safety issues, such as parking along the highway,” he said. “This pilot program acknowledges that frequent park users have an important role to play in protecting these important natural spaces and the species that depend upon them.”
To get a pass, visitors must register an account on the province’s discovercamping.ca website and select either a morning or afternoon pass, depending on what time they plan to arrive. Each day’s park passes become available only after 6 a.m. Individuals can request up to eight passes for friends or a vehicle pass with a maximum capacity of eight people. The passes will be non-transferable.
Mount Seymour brings in more than a million visitors per year, according to the ministry, and Cypress almost two million. Under the day pass program, mountain trails will have limits – 500 per day for the Howe Sound Crest Trail, 300 for Hollyburn Mountain trails, 500 for Black Mountain Plateau, and 800 per day total for Seymour Main Trail, Mystery Lake and Dog Mountain.
Park operators will be checking passes at access roads, gatehouses and trailheads, according to the province, and visitors should have a copy on their phone or printed out.
Trails exempt from the pass system on Cypress include the Skyline Crest, Forks, Trans Canada, and Yew Lake trails. On Seymour, the Baden-Powell Trail, Old Buck, Flora and Goldie trails will be exempt.
The move has the support of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society’s B.C. chapter, but the pilot project is being condemned by North Vancouver parks advocate Steve Jones.
“I'm just sad to see any money going to trying to prevent the public from accessing our outdoor areas. If there were too many people on a few trails, they should have taken the money and built a new trail somewhere, instead of trying to tell people to go home or go to other areas,” he said.
There are cases where a pass system would be helpful to manage demand, Jones said, but none of the parks listed make sense.
“These are trails where a lot of money has been spent upgrading the trails over the years so that they can handle a lot of traffic,” he said.
Jones said the foreseeable impact is the pass system diverting hikers to trails that aren’t as well developed and marked. He also questions the wisdom of the 6 a.m. start time for reservations. A hike in the backcountry requires ample planning, and longer hikes often demand a very early start to allow people to make it home before dark. At the very least, the passes should be accessible the day before, he added.
“Having a system where you can't even find out if you're going to be able to get access to the trail until 6 a.m. is really disastrous,” he said. “Everyone's going to be starting later than they should."