Operations manager of Golden Ears Provincial Park is hoping that next summer there will be a better plan in place to limit the amount of vehicles travelling to the popular local getaway.
Ultimately the day-use pass system implemented by the province did deter traffic to the park, said Stu Burgess, who manages the operations at both Golden Ears park and Rolley Lake Provincial Park. He noted, though, that there were issues with the program.
There will still days during the summer when 3,700 cars would make their way to the park when they only had room for 1,700 vehicles, explained Burgess.
“A lot of people just didn’t hear about the passes or didn’t know about the passes or just decided they couldn’t get one and they were going to come anyways and see what happens,” he said.
Another issue Burgess received complaints about were people who were not able to get passes when they first became available – 6 a.m. each day for same-day booking. Some people couldn’t be online at that time to get a pass.
Then, people who were not already familiar with the park didn’t know what pass they should get. And, once in the park, there was nothing in place to prevent them from going to another area in the park that was already overflowing with patrons.
“I would like to see something done to try and decrease the volume of traffic coming here next year but what form that would take I just don’t know,” said Burgess adding that he has already had a debrief with B.C. Parks, who will be also talking with operators of the other five parks involved in the pilot program.
September was a ridiculously busy month for the park, added Burgess.
From June until September, there were around 218,000 vehicles that passed through the gates, 55,000 more than the previous year – a 34 per cent increase.
“That’s about 763,000 people,” said Burgess.
Now Burgess is gearing up for the winter camping season starting Oct. 15.
“Quite often in the winter there are very, very few people here. I’m certain that’s going to change this winter,” Burgess said thinking back to February and March this year when they saw a huge increase.
But, he added, it is hard to compare the numbers to the previous year because in March 2019 they had to close for a portion of the month because of the snow and ice on the road in the park.
This year people have limited options, particularly the snowbirds, who normally travel south to spend the winter in the United States. Burgess has already had a number of inquiries about long-term camping in the park. But, he said, there is a 14-day limit and there are no hook ups for sewer, power or water, which makes Golden Ears unsuitable for long-term camping.
Currently only half of the Gold Creek campground is open for winter camping, and if the demand is high Burgess is unsure if they will be able to open up more campground space.
“I do know in March Gold Creek filled, and we were instructed by B.C. Parks not to open Alouette Campground,” explained Burgess.
Looking forward, Burgess is not expecting much to change next summer. He foresees another record season.
Staff at the park learned a lot about how to handle the crowds this year, and they are lessons Burgess is expecting to apply to next year.
For example, staff noticed a number of people unwilling to use the bathrooms at the park, because they were afraid of germs. They were using the woods instead, said Burgess, “which is really not a suitable thing to be doing in a provincial park.”
At the height of the summer season Burgess had around eight more staff than last year who were doing everything from security patrols, dealing with parking and park closures and cleaning the bathrooms. He said the large bathrooms were getting two complete cleanings and a couple more “tidyings” throughout the day, and the pit toilets were being cleaned three or four times a day.
“It was just continual, non-stop bathroom cleaning for a lot of the staff here,” he assured campers.
The summer season will open again with full fees and services on April 1, 2021.
Registration windows – whether they will be two or four months in advance – will be determined over the winter months, said Burgess,
For now, Burgess is relieved the summer season is almost over.
“It’s been a year.”