The entrance to the Othello Tunnels parking lot has caution tape up and signs warning visitors of the park’s closure.                                 Emelie Peacock/Hope Standard

The entrance to the Othello Tunnels parking lot has caution tape up and signs warning visitors of the park’s closure. Emelie Peacock/Hope Standard

Many Hope and Fraser Canyon parks remain closed, as others around B.C. open to day use

A ‘slow, methodical’ approach to re-opening tourism is crucial, says Shannon Jones

Several parks in the Hope and Fraser Canyon areas are not on the list of B.C. parks set to re-open to day-use May 14.

While camping won’t be coming until June due to the ongoing pandemic, B.C. Premier John Horgan announced last week that several parks would be open for day-use only, in time for the Victoria Day long weekend. While some nearby parks including E.C. Manning and Bridal Veil Falls provincial parks and the Coquihalla Summit recreation area are set to re-open, many in the Hope area – including the Coquihalla Canyon Provincial Park which houses the Othello Tunnels – remain closed.

As early as March 24, day-use facilities and campgrounds in provincial parks were closed. By April 8, on the advice of the RCMP, the province shut down parks to all visitors. The partial re-opening of some provincial parks is part of the government’s ‘restart B.C.’ approach and the continued easing of restrictions will depend on whether rates of COVID-19 infection remain low.

BC Parks stated a later phase will include re-opening the reservation system, campgrounds and more day use, but some high use parks could remain closed for the season.

Along with Othello, Silver Lake and Skagit Valley provincial parks don’t have a re-opening date. Up the Fraser Canyon, Nahatlatch (the park and protected area), Emory Creek and the Stein Valley Nlaka’pamux Heritage provincial parks also don’t yet have re-opening dates.

Shannon Jones, executive director of Hope’s tourism and economic development organization AdvantageHOPE, said she appreciates the phased approach BC Parks is taking. “The approach to tourism needs to be a very slow, methodical one that gives residents the opportunity to feel safe and confident that this is the best next step,” she added.

A lot of thought goes into which parks to re-open and which to keep closed, said B.C. Parks spokesperson Jeremy Uppenborn.

A major factor is the parks with high visitor volumes – where facilities get crowded, parking lots are packed and ‘Instagrammable’ points of interest often experience long line ups. The problem with these popular spots, such as Othello Tunnels during the summer, is how difficult physical distancing becomes. Not to mention, Uppenborn said, the environmental impacts. If all hikers are walking along a narrow path, stepping two metres off the path to let others pass could result in environmental degradation.

“These high-use parks require substantial staff presence, high service levels, and in-person visitor management,” BC Parks stated. “We are keeping these parks closed for now in order to keep staff, park operators, park visitors and the parks themselves safe.”

People who decide to flout restrictions and visit a closed park could be stuck with a $115 fine, BC Parks stated, by park operators and rangers on patrol. And while Jones thinks BC Parks are well-prepared to enforce these rules, it is ‘disheartening’ to see so many people come to the community despite the rules in place. If there is an influx of COVID-19 cases due to over-tourism and people not respecting the current boundaries, further plans to re-open could be postponed she added.

“We’re aware right now that tourism has taken a pause, so right now parks are mainly to support residents in their own areas to get outside and expand that bubble a little bit,” she said. “We’re advising against non-essential travel…our messages has changed from ‘explore B.C. later’ to ‘explore B.C. local.’ So that means…hyper-local tourism…staying in your own community.”

Uppenborn said talks are ongoing about the parks not yet on the re-open list. He advised people to keep checking the list of parks website to find out about the reopening of a specific park.

And while some beautiful parks across the province are now open to visitors, B.C. Premier John Horgan stressed this is not an invite to plan a big road trip far from home.

“Let’s enjoy that, but let’s stay close to home,” he cautioned. “This is not the time for a road trip to another community for a hike or a holiday. If you have a provincial park in your area, by all means, visit it. Do not travel great distances. We need to stay close to home. That is a key part of our recovery.”

– with files from Tom Fletcher.



emelie.peacock@hopestandard.com

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