Category "B.C. Parks"


Province proposal to turn part of Trans Canada Trail to industrial use ‘mind-boggling’

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Cyclists ride across a trestle bridge, part of the Columbia and Western Rail Trail.

Handout/Trails Society / PNG

A historic rail trail that was donated to the province by the Trans Canada Trail society could be opened to logging trucks if a government proposal to cancel its trail designation gets the green light, say trail advocates.

The Ministry of Forests is seeking to transfer management of a 67-kilometre portion of the Columbia and Western Rail Trail to unspecified agencies to reflect local interests and support “access for industrial activity,” according to a letter sent to stakeholders soliciting feedback on the plan.

A major logging company holds tenure for several cut blocks near the trail, which runs from Castlegar to Fife, east of Christina Lake.

“It’s mind-boggling that they’re even considering this,” said Ciel Sander, president of Trails Society of B.C. “The trail is a government asset. It should be protected as a linear park, not an access road for logging trucks.”

The Columbia and Western Rail Trail was donated to the Trans Canada Trail decades ago by the Canadian Pacific Railway for inclusion in the The Great Trail, previously known as the Trans Canada Trail, a national trail network stretching 24,000 kilometres across the country.

In 2004, the committee transferred the trail to the B.C. government with the “expressed intention that it would be used and managed as a recreational trail,” said Trans Canada Trail vice-president Jérémie Gabourg.

A cyclist on the Columbia and Western Rail Trail.

Handout/Trails Society

While the government’s proposal is clear that recreational access will remain, it marks the first time a group has sought to convert a portion of The Great Trail from a trail to a road in any province or territory.

“Sections of The Great Trail of Canada are on roadways, and we strive to move these sections of the trail to greenways, where possible,” said Gabourg. “To see a trail go from greenway to roadway is disheartening … It could set a dangerous precedent.”

The Columbia and Western Rail Trail connects with the popular Kettle Valley Rail Trail, a route that attracts cyclists from around the world. In accepting the trail from the Trans Canada Trail in 2004, the government made a commitment to preserve and protect it from motorized use, said Léon Lebrun, who was involved in the process as past president of Trails Society of B.C.

“We have a government who has not taken real responsibility,” he said. Officials have “turned a blind eye” to motorized users who have graded parts of the trail and removed several bollards designed to prevent access. “They had no permit and no permission, and the government did nothing.”

In its letter to stakeholders, the Ministry of Forests recognized vehicles are already accessing the trail, explaining the proposed administration change would ensure it was being maintained for that use.

“This portion of rail corridor contains engineered structures including steel trestles, hard rock tunnels, major culverts and retaining walls atypical of recreation trails and requiring management beyond typical trail standards,” said the letter by John Hawkins, director of Recreation Sites and Trails B.C.

Tracks on the trail, part of the Columbia and Western Rail Trail.

Handout/Trails Society

But Rossland Mayor Kathy Moore said that allowing motorized vehicles would be rewarding people who broke the law.

“While we acknowledge that this change reflects current use, this is clearly the result of years of mismanagement of what was intended as, and should have remained, a high-profile recreation and tourism amenity,” she replied to Hawkins in a letter that was shared with Postmedia.

“Those who have consistently flaunted trail use regulations are now being rewarded … We expect (Recreation Sites and Trails B.C.) to acknowledge this as a tragic failure, and ensure that resources and strategies are in place to prevent further losses of our valued trails.”

Stakeholders were given one month to register their feedback with the Ministry of Forests, ending Aug. 26.

In a statement, the Ministry of Forests said the process is ongoing to receive more information from regional districts. A decision is expected before the end of the year.

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B.C.’s most popular parks … according to Instagram

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Collage of Instagram photos

Photos from visitors to B.C. parks found on Instagram.

Photo illustration by Nathan Griffiths. Photos by @itsbigben, @thendrw and @calsnape, via Instagram.

Some of southern B.C.’s smallest provincial parks get the most love on Instagram, raising fears the social media platform is contributing to overcrowding and damage to parks. Yet those same posts might lead to more effective park planning and management, according to research.

A Postmedia analysis of hashtags on Instagram for popular south coast parks show that for some parks, the number of “likes” and comments for a park’s hashtag is a strong predictor of attendance.

That matches with research conducted by Spencer Wood, a senior research scientist at the eScience Institute for Data Discovery at the University of Washington and with the National Capital Project at Stanford University. Wood and his team have been using statistical models to study the role of social media in motivating people to get outdoors.

“There are correlations between the number of (social media) posts that get shared in a place and the number of people who visit a place,” said Wood. ”People are certainly going to sites to get some iconic photo.”

Wood said that talking about a park online does increase its popularity but that those sorts of effects have been happening for decades with print media.

Postmedia‘s analysis found that along the Sea to Sky Highway, Garibaldi, Stawamus Chief and Joffre Lakes showed some of the strongest correlation between ”likes“ and attendance, even when controlling for distance from urban centres and population growth. For other parks along the route, such as Narin or Bridal Veil falls, there was only moderate or no correlation.

Wood said the motivations driving park attendance are complex and differ by site. Changing demographics mean certain types of experiences are more popular than others and population growth means there are more people using the same amount of space.

“At some sites, it’s just a coincidence,” he said. “People are sharing their experience on Instagram but it’s probably not what’s driving people to the site. At other sites, we think yes, it is the publicity that’s driving people to the site. But neither is a guarantee.”

Josie Heisig, an influencer marketing specialist with Destination B.C., a Crown corporation that co-ordinates provincial tourism marketing, agrees the link between social media and increased visitation isn’t cut and dried.

“It’s hard to directly say that someone will book a trip because they’ve seen one Instagram post,” she said, “but it definitely leads to that path of them booking a trip.”

Destination B.C. has a front-seat view of social media’s explosive potential. In 2013, the company kicked off a promotional campaign using the hashtag #explorebc. This past B.C. Day long weekend, the hashtag surpassed five million uses on Instagram.

One of the most popular #explorebc posts showed a humpback whale breaching just metres from the dock at a lodge north of Port Hardy. Shot in 2018, the video has been viewed more than 48 million times across various platforms. The week following the post, which was amplified through Destination B.C. channels, business at the lodge shot up more than 1300 per cent with bookings being as far out as 2020.

“For the Great Bear Lodge, there was a direct number of bookings and inquiries after the video was posted,” said Heisig. “That’s one where we can see the direct correlation.”

Wood, who has done work with the U.S. Forest Service, said that a sudden boost in attendance can be a problem for sites that aren’t ready for it. As in B.C., many parks in the U.S. that used to hold visitors without trouble are struggling with overcrowding and providing services to visitors.

Wood and his team developed a dashboard of social media and other measures the U.S. Forest Service and others can use to determine which sites are the most popular and what new types of opportunities they need to be developing.

Social media data is improving the ability to make decisions about where to provide new opportunities, improve accessibility and focus ecological restoration, said Wood. It’s a way to help determine “what sort of policies and plans we should be making in order to improve people’s access to the outdoors.”

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Hashtag data was collected from the Instagram API using hashtag searches by park name (i.e.: ”#joffrelakes“ and ”joffrelakesprovincialpark“). Park visitor estimates were provided by B.C. Parks. Parks were selected based on the number of visitors in 2018 and their distance from Lower Mainland municipalities.

A correlation coefficient (R) was calculated using the number of Instagram ”likes“ for related hashtags and park attendance data for each year from 2010 to 2018 in order to estimate the relationship between ”likes” and attendance at each park.

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