Parks, Provincial

PARKS, PROVINCIAL, are areas of land and water designated by the provincial government for purposes of recreation and conservation. BC has one of the largest, most complex parks systems in the world. As of 2005 there were about 830 provincial parks and ECOLOGICAL RESERVES covering about 12.5% of public lands in BC.

Earliest Parks

The provincial parks system began with establishment of STRATHCONA PROVINCIAL PARK on VANCOUVER ISLAND in 1911. Mt ROBSON was added in 1913, followed by GARIBALDI PROVINCIAL PARK (1920) and KOKANEE GLACIER PROVINCIAL PARK (1922). Initially, the purpose of these parks was to set aside large, scenic mountain wilderness areas, accessible by railway and largely for the use of TOURISTS. By the 1940s, the idea of parks as recreation showpieces for the wealthy had expanded to a new multiple-use goal that included commercial and industrial uses. The FOREST SERVICE had principal responsibility for parks at this time. TWEEDSMUIR PROVINCIAL PARK in the west and HAMBER PROVINCIAL PARK in the east were both well over 10,000 sq km when established, but were subsequently carved up for industrial use. Hamber, in the ROCKY MTS, was reduced by almost 10,000 sq km to its present size of 245 sq km in response to FOREST INDUSTRY pressure and in anticipation of HYDROELECTRIC expansion under the terms of the COLUMBIA RIVER TREATY. Nearly 5,000 sq km were removed from Tweedsmuir when the northern portion was flooded to meet hydroelectric needs at KEMANO for the aluminum smelter at KITIMAT. Major controversy over these events made it apparent that before parks were established, extensive studies should be done to eliminate or at least reduce conflicts over resource uses.

Growth of the System

By the mid-1950s, 2 other factors affected BC's growing park system: cities were growing; and as people became more mobile, more roads were being built. City dwellers' demand for roadside parks and destination campgrounds skyrocketed. As well, public consciousness of conservation ethics and benefits had begun to grow: more and more people believed resource extraction should be prohibited in some areas. A Parks Branch independent of the Forest Service was created and in 1965 a revised Park Act was passed to provide more detailed classifications of parks and establish guidelines for conservation and recreation. By the mid-1970s there were 375 parks, including destination campgrounds such as CULTUS LAKE, GOLDSTREAM and Rathtrevor Beach provincial parks, and large wilderness areas for the conservation of wildlife and specific types of natural environments, such as NAIKOON, SPATSIZI PLATEAU, PURCELL WILDERNESS and WELLS GRAY. To confer higher protection status on some PLANTS, animals and natural environments, the province enacted the Ecological Reserves Act in 1971. BC was the first jurisdiction in the world to establish an ecological reserves program.

By the 1980s a strong ENVIRONMENTAL MOVEMENT had emerged and was putting new pressure on government to establish parks. The participants included biologists, natural historians and other professionals who were alarmed at the loss of wilderness and plant and animal species. British Columbians shared this concern and the government was spurred into action. Between the mid-1980s and 1999, more than 200 new parks were established, many of them large wilderness areas encompassing entire watersheds. Parks such as CARMANAHWALBRAN, Pinecone Burke, AKAMINA–Kishinena, TATSHENSHINIALSEK and a number in CLAYOQUOT SOUND came into being. The large region of protected areas and special management zones known as the Northern Rockies, announced in 1997, was one of the most innovative models of park establishment to date, and was the largest land-use decision of its kind in N America. It established 11,700 sq km of parks surrounded by 32,400 sq km of special management zones, in which resource development would be managed with conservation objectives in mind. The package included legislating access management and setting up a trust fund and public advisory board for the core region bounded by the MUSKWA and KECHIKA rivers. As well, in recognition of aboriginal land claims (see ABORIGINAL RIGHTS), some parks, such as Tseax Lava Beds (NISGA'A), STEIN Valley (NLAKA'PAMUX), KITLOPE (HAISLA), and Ts'yl-os (TSILHQOT'IN), were established through negotiations and co-management agreements with FIRST NATIONS.

The number of people visiting BC's provincial parks grew from about 3 million visits annually in the early 1960s to 24 million annual visits in 2005. Almost 90% of BC residents have used a provincial park at some time, and about 60% use one each year. Recreational facilities in BC parks include more than 2,700 km of hiking TRAILS, 11,000 campsites, 118 boat launches and 234 parks with facilities for disabled visitors. Many destination parks have amphitheatres and indoor facilities for natural history and public education programs. Natural and special features protected in BC parks and ecological reserves include DELLA FALLS in Strathcona, the endangered Vancouver Island MARMOT in the Haley Lake Ecological Reserve, the grizzly BEAR sanctuary at KHUTZEYMATEEN, and Tatshenshini–Alsek, part of the world's largest UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE. See map and list of BC's Provincial Parks.

by Maggie Paquet