A North Vancouver parks advocate is calling on the province to follow its own recommendations and improve access to Mount Seymour Provincial Park, which will soon require a day pass for anyone wanting to visit.
BC Parks has been sitting on a report it commissioned more than four years ago laying out options to pursue expanded parking, bus/shuttle access, or even a gondola to the top to deal with demand that overwhelms the current options.
The province hired consultants in 2017 to survey park users about their preferences and examine some notionally feasible options.
When the province announced earlier this month that the mandatory day pass system for parking on the mountain would be back this winter, Steve Jones sought out the report from BC Parks. Previously, it had never been publicly released.
“We’ve got to accept that the population in the Lower Mainland is growing and access to nature is very important. I don’t really see a way around that, and I think that they’re going to find a number of very sensible options that would have minimal environmental impact and really allow more people to get out there,” he said.
When it came to new parking options, the top recommendations were for an expanded Lot 1 (at the last switchback before the main lot/chalet) to include about 200 new spaces at the expense of the adjacent campsite, as well as expanding Lot 0 at the corner of Mt. Seymour Road and Indian River Drive. That could add a further 240 spaces adjacent to public transit with minimal environmental impact, the report concluded. BC Parks did initially start expanding the lot in 2017 before cancelling the project over concerns from neighbours.
Expanding parking options could be supplemented with either improved shuttle service or a new trail connecting them with the main backcountry trailheads, the report suggests.
One of the cheapest and easiest options on the table, the report found, is allowing visitors to enter the park earlier in the morning, so people could get in, get their exercise and get out before the crowds show up. Jones and other backcountry users have been lobbying for that change for years.
“I don’t think there’s any excuse for them to continue to keep that gate locked in the morning,” he said. “We’re hoping to get the gate open so we can watch the sunrise again.”
The plan for a potential gondola from the base to the top was “polarizing” among those surveyed, though it “should be given further consideration in the future,” the report states, given its relatively light environmental footprint and ability to reduce vehicle trips up the mountain.
Jones said a gondola might make sense after a few more decades of population growth, but for the 20-30 days per year when the mountain does get overwhelmed now, the concept is “a little heavy-handed.”
“We’re in the stage now where we don’t even have public transit up the mountain,” he said.
With so many feasible options, Jones said it is galling that BC Parks has only implemented the day pass, which has the effect of excluding people from the park, rather than improving access to it.
“The day pass received a very, very negative response, and that’s the only one they’ve done,” he said. “Was the study done to try and validate what they already wanted to do? Or was it an honest attempt to look into options? And if it was an honest attempt to look into options, why wasn’t it brought into the public conversation? And why is nothing being done with it?”
Effective Dec. 15, BC Parks will require visitors to first secure either a morning (7 a.m. to noon) or afternoon (noon to 4 p.m.) pass before parking in either the main P1 or lower P5 lots.
The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy issued a statement in response to Jones’s concerns on Tuesday, acknowledging that the day pass system has been an adjustment.
“Since 2019, BC Parks has experienced an unprecedented increase in the number of visitors, particularly to Cypress and Seymour Parks, which has led to significant pressures on sensitive ecosystems that make up the park," it read. "We want to ensure that people can continue to access the park while also managing the impact on these sensitive ecosystems.
"To advance the 2018 study and additional visitor use management efforts in Mount Seymour Park, BC Parks intends to also undertake a facility plan for Mount Seymour Park that will include a public engagement portion. This is planned for early 2023.”