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Province says no to dogs in Joffre Lakes Provincial Park

Easy access—not dogs—is the real problem, say critics

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Over the last several years, Joffre Lakes Provincial Park has exploded in popularity. With its turquoise waters and easy access from Vancouver, the provincial park now sees upwards of 170,000 visits a years.

To lessen the impact on the park's delicate ecosystem, BC Parks is instituting a new rule: No dogs starting this May long weekend..

"With increased dog use, there is increased dog waste," wrote a spokesperson for BC Parks in an emailed statement

. "Unfortunately some park users do not clean up after their dogs and this waste ends up in the water system ... A no-dog policy is being implemented for public safety, user enjoyment and environmental protection."

Announced on social media on April 30, the dog ban was widely panned, with many calling it a superficial response to a far greater problem.

Melissa Van, a Lower Mainland resident who feels dogs should be permitted, said they should at least be allowed in the winter and shoulder seasons, when the park isn't nearly as busy.

She also questioned how much of an impact the ban will make.

"(You) say you're banning dogs to protect the park, but you're letting busloads of people come up unprepared in flip flops and stilettos?" said Van.

"I've never seen more than a handful of dogs on that hike ... And I'm probably the person with the handful."

Some, however, are welcoming the ban.

Leigh McClurg, an avid hiker from Squamish, said BC Parks desperately needs to do something to cut down on traffic and that the dog ban is an easy first step.

When they're banning domestic animals, they're not just banning animals, he said.

"They're reducing the number of people who go with those dogs ... Trying to create a system of limiting the number of people is way harder."

Like many, McClurg learned his backcountry basics in the park. When he visits now, it's usually with friends or family with little experience.

Like others Pique spoke to for this story, he feels that Joffre Lakes' real problem is overcrowding—and that the province is partly to blame for making the hike too easy.

In 2013, BC Parks began upgrading the trail leading up to Middle Joffre Lake, creating a dirt path with stairs that is doable by able-bodied people in relatively good shape.

Surrounded by sub-alpine forest and with views of the rugged Coast Mountains, Middle Joffre Lake is a prime selfie zone, boasting a now famous log that extends into the water, serving as an ideal platform for photos.

On Instagram, the hashtag #joffrelakes brings up over 47,000 photos—the bulk of which are taken at Middle Lake.

Before, "you had to scramble across some huge boulders right at the start, and the trail kept crisscrossing over a creek," recalled McClurg. Now "you could push a stroller all the way to Middle Lake."

Joffre Lakes isn't the only B.C. park feeling the strain of the so-called "social media effect." With its stunning views of Indian Arm and easy access from Vancouver, the Quarry Rock trail has become a major source of tension for residents of Deep Cove—so much so that last month the District of North Vancouver voted to enable its park rangers to limit the number of visitors.

For the first time, this summer park rangers will be able to temporarily close the park, ensuring there are no more than 70 hikers. The move came after Deep Cove residents and merchants complained that the increased traffic to the area was damaging the neighbourhood's charm.

When asked if the province is considering limiting visitors to Joffre Lakes, West Vancouver-Sea to Sky MLA Jordan Sturdy said that it is not something that's being contemplated at this time.

"The issue of day-access reservations is not something that's in place in any other areas, and I'm not sure how practical it would be and what the terms of that (would be)," he said.

"It's certainly something to look at, but I don't know how practical it is in many respects at this particular point."

Noting that on a busy day, Joffre Lakes can see around 2,500 people, Sturdy feels that the dog ban is a good move.

"You can imagine if 10 per cent (of people) bring their dogs—that's 250 dogs in the park. If every dog was on a leash and everybody picked up their pet's excrement, it might be a different story. But unfortunately, that's not the situation," he said.  

When asked about the decision to make the park more accessible by upgrading the path to Middle Lake, Sturdy said that while it was the right move, it has come with unforeseen consequences.

"(Joffre Lakes Provincial Park) is a spectacular place, and making it more accessible to more people was the right decision," he said.  

"But I think there was an unintended consequence, (which) was the product of social media. That was not necessarily part of the (equation)."

Pemberton mayor Mike Richman echoed Sturdy's concerns about overuse and underlined the need for more resources to mange the park, as well as other popular recreational areas like Strawberry Point.

The province needs to strike the right balance between promoting and managing B.C's backcountry, said Richman.

"It's been a little disproportionate (towards promoting) it in the past because we were trying to build our tourism sector. I feel like B.C. has succeeded in doing that," he said.

"We (now) want to see more resources here on the ground to manage the impacts and preserve our beautiful wilderness."

Funding for BC Parks is a longstanding issue in the province, with the former B.C. Liberal government receiving criticism from environmental groups for underfunding the agency.

Last summer, the Pemberton area—which includes four main provincial parks—had only one senior park ranger and one park ranger who both worked seasonally, according to BC Parks.

This summer season, BC Parks has added two additional rangers and made the senior ranger position year round.

The increases are thanks to the BC Parks Future Strategy. Announced in November 2016 by the then-Liberal government, the plan was hailed as a "a once-in-a-generation opportunity for British Columbians to unite behind a goal we all share: to protect and enhance our parks and protected areas so they will thrive in the future."

It set aside $22.9 million over five years for campsite expansion in provincial and recreation sites, and $35 million over three years to strengthen conservation.

Of this, $25 million went directly to BC Parks operations, allowing the hiring of 28 new park rangers.

Critics, however, say that the plan doesn't go far enough and they want the province to match the operating budgets of leading park agencies like Parks Canada and Alberta Parks.

"The total budget (for BC Parks) is no where near where it needs to be to do long-term planning and get a reasonable number of park rangers on the ground," said Tori Ball, a campaigner with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.

She is calling on the province's new NDP government to inject additional funding into BC Parks.

"They had a campaign promise to restore funding to BC Parks," said Ball.

"We understand they can't do it in one year, but we thought that there would be faster action to restore the funding and get us up to a higher level."

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