Posted: November 27th, 2022
Outdoor Rec Coalition seeks critical support from Premier
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An association of 40 organizations and companies (see list below), who represents the interests of BC’s leisure and tourism sector, last week sent a letter to incoming Prime Minister David Eby urging the BC government to increase public spending in the upcoming 2023 provincial budget in order to to support BC’s outdoor sector and communities.
Recreation advocates raised concerns that the rising interest in outdoor recreation, accelerated by the pandemic, is straining limited resources. British Columbians report a lack of parking, access and basic sanitation, outdated recreation infrastructure, environmental and wildlife impacts, maintenance backlogs and staff shortages.
They also said the province is at risk of losing the valuable contributions of community recreation groups, which help maintain hundreds of recreational areas and 20% of BC’s hiking trails (8,500 km) annually.
These groups volunteer more than 63,000 hours each year, but face serious challenges, including increasing volunteer burnout and limited access to funds to maintain BC’s recreational infrastructure.
The coalition made three motions. First, to include funding increases for BC’s two recreation agencies, BC Parks and Recreation Sites and Trails BC. Second, to update the province’s decades-old migration strategy with adequate resources for implementation.
Finally, a one-time $10 million contribution will be established for a new BC Trail Fund that will provide reliable and consistent access to grants for community-based groups, First Nations and local governments that require ongoing stewardship and maintenance of the trails and recreation facilities of Ensure BC.
A recent study shows that outdoor recreation in BC is a major economic powerhouse, providing British Columbia residents with more than $15 billion in economic value annually. Outdoor recreation provides many benefits, including community health and social inclusion, reconciliation through the participation of indigenous people in recreation planning and management, connection to nature, and economic benefits such as jobs and tourism. Despite the obvious benefits, little has been done to support the sector over the last two decades, leaving outdoor spaces and the values on which they depend increasingly at risk.
For several years, the provincial Budget Committee has recommended that the BC government invest more in staffing and maintenance for BC’s two recreation agencies, BC Parks and Recreation Sites and Trails BC, and provide more support for Trail Stewardship groups. This year, the committee also recommended special funding for trail maintenance and development for community-based organizations.
The Outdoor Recreation Council of BC (ORCBC) led the letter from outdoor recreation and tourism organizations and companies expressing their concern about the current state of outdoor recreation and the loss of benefits to the communities of BC and the province as a whole agreed .
Louise Pedersen, Executive Director of ORCBC, said: “BC’s outdoor recreation sector has for decades experienced underfunding, loss of access, adverse environmental and cultural impacts, and strained resources, including pressure on staff and volunteers. With interest in outdoor recreation on the rise, we can only expect things to get worse unless we secure fresh funding for this vital sector. We ask the incoming Prime Minister to include provisions for long-term, sustainable funding in the upcoming provincial budget to ensure quality outdoor recreational experiences are accessible to all – and that nature remains clean and beautiful.”
British Columbians agree much more needs to be done. An Ipsos survey commissioned by ORCBC this summer confirmed that 85% of BC’s outdoor recreation participants support more government investment in the development and maintenance of trails, parks and other recreational facilities in the province.
Barry Janyk, Executive Director of BC Rural Centre, who endorsed the letter, said: “We are an amazingly broad coalition with a critical, shared message that government should heed well. BC’s rural areas are our places of healing, learning and recreation. Please invest in our sustainable future!”
Kieran Rankin, President of the Recreational Canoeing Association of BC said, “As populations and densities increase, we need to invest in proper access to recreational resources. There’s no point in having outdoor areas like lakes, rivers, or even parks for paddling and hiking if we don’t have trails, dedicated access to rivers and lakes, and parking lots for people to actually use.”
The coalition highlighted that British Columbians celebrated last year when the provincial government committed $83 million over three years to strengthen recreational infrastructure in BC Parks. However, recreational areas outside of parks, which account for 85% of the province’s land base, have yet to receive similar support.
Notably forgotten is the provincial agency of Recreation Sites and Trails BC, which oversees 15,000 km of trails and 2,200 recreational areas on Crown land with just 50 employees and an operating budget of $8 million.
“We call on the province to make new and needed investments that will place British Columbia in a much better position to develop a world-class trail and recreation system that will enable broad and inclusive participation in outdoor recreation, best practices.” followed for trail design and environmental considerations and promoting reconciliation through increased representation of indigenous people in recreation planning, development and management,” said Pedersen.
Read more about the Outdoor Recreation Council of BC’s campaign to get more funding for recreation in the 2023 provincial budget.
e-KNOW file photo
Submitted by BC’s Outdoor Recreation Council