With parks across British Columbia seeing an increasing number of visitors amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the provincial government is injecting funds into the park system in order to further promote and protect nature.
On Friday, the government announced it would be injecting funds into BC Parks, enabling its operating and capital budgets to grow by more than $83 million over the next three years.
BC Parks says the increased budget will lead to new campsites, expanded trails and strengthened management of the park system while claiming these improvements will make visits to provincial parks “more enjoyable than ever.”
More specifically, the BC Parks capital budget will increase by an average of 57 per cent and the operating budget will increase by an average of 22 per cent for each year of Budget 2021.
“It’s absolutely clear how deeply people care about our provincial parks. The pandemic has brought more people than ever to visit BC Parks so they can safely spend time with family and friends while connecting to nature,” said George Heyman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. “Investing in our parks helps secure our magnificent natural legacy so more British Columbians can appreciate its beauty. We are also supporting local businesses and the economy by creating employment opportunities through new investments in park infrastructure.”
As far as camping goes, BC Parks outlines that it had a record-breaking year for camping reservations in 2020 with more than 270,000.
As a direct result of this increased demand, BC Parks intends to use some of the additional funds towards the construction of new campgrounds and more campsites and amenities at existing campgrounds.
“B.C.’s parks and campgrounds are more popular than ever, which is why this investment is so timely,” said Selina Robinson, Minister of Finance. “By investing in new camp spaces and improving trails and accessibility, we are creating jobs right here at home and protecting this important legacy for generations to come.”
There will also be a focus on expanding BC Parks’ current trail network.
The government says the funding will be used to enhance trails and improve accessibility for people who use wheelchairs, strollers or have other accessibility challenges. In addition to these trail improvements, the funding will support high-priority maintenance projects and renovations to existing facilities, additional staff and equipment, and improvements to backcountry facilities to enhance stewardship and the overall visitor experience.
BC Parks notes that planning is currently underway in order to determine where the new projects will take place.
“Being in nature improves our overall health and well-being. It offers the opportunity to connect to history, culture and the teachings of Indigenous nations,” said Kelly Greene, Parliamentary Secretary for Environment. “We are committed to working in partnership with First Nations to reflect Indigenous history and culture in provincial parks, and expanding opportunities for outdoor recreation so everyone can enjoy our spectacular natural areas.”
The expanded budget is in addition to an investment by the government, made earlier this year, into infrastructure improvements at 24 provincial parks, including several on Vancouver Island.
The “meaningful projects” include upgrades to parking lots, drinking water systems, boat launches and campgrounds, backcountry improvements and accessibility upgrades.
Annita Mcphee, the executive director of Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, says that this expanded budget will mark a “turning point” for provincial parks, emphasizing it is “the kind of bold action that nature needs right now.”
Regarding visitors, the government says that B.C.’s provincial parks receive more than 23 million visits each year.