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B.C. closes all provincial parks ahead of long weekend

Move comes as tourist towns ask visitors to stop visiting to prevent spread of coronavirus

Squamish Gryphon

With a long weekend rapidly approaching and a forecast full of warm spring weather, B.C. has decided to close all provincial parks. The decision is part of the province’s efforts to “flatten the curve” in its fight against COVID-19.

“Because physical distancing works, it is critical that we take every action needed to restrict the spread of COVID-19. This applies to British Columbians and out-of-province visitors who were planning to visit or stay at our provincial parks,” said George Heyman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. “The message is clear: stay home, avoid travel, do not put yourself or others at risk.”

BC Parks made its announcement Wednesday, just days before many in the province were set to go out into the woods to enjoy some more distant social distancing.

Full closure follows earlier warnings

The full BC Parks closure follows earlier closures in the Sea-to-Sky region, all campsites and rec sites, and many parks near remote communities.

Sea to Sky parks were some of the first closed when users were seen crowding parking lots and congregating in groups in blatant violation of the government’s orders to observe social distancing. Parks accessed via remote communities were closed shortly thereafter. That closure was part of an effort to stop visitors from travelling between communities to places with fewer local health resources.

Parks Canada has also closed off access to federal parks across the country. The closure encourages Canadians to stay at home and recreate locally in an effort to stop the spread of coronavirus between communities.

The most recent, and complete closure comes as B.C. residents and out-of-province visitors continued to flock to the province’s outdoor spaces. The early-season crowds have led numerous municipalities that normally rely on tourism to publicly plead with visitors to stay away during the pandemic.

Crowds making social distancing impossible

While Canadians are still encouraged to seek fresh air and exercise, they must still do so in a way that allows for social distancing. Authorities continue to observe crowded parking lots at trail heads. This makes maintaining a healthy distance between users all but impossible.

“I understand and share the love people in British Columbia have for the outdoors and the connection between health and proximity to nature. We tried to provide safe space for people to get some exercise and fresh air in our beautiful parks,” said Heyman. “But it has proven too challenging to maintain safe distance between visitors. This action is difficult but necessary. We look forward to the day we can welcome people back to our wonderful parks.”

BC Parks statement added that the decision was made with ongoing feedback from RCMP, local government, First Nations and local search-and-rescue organizations. “While many people are observing the physical distancing requirements set by the provincial health officer (PHO),” Parks’ press release stated, “some continue to ignore the order, making enforcement in a wilderness setting challenging.”