Getting There is Half the Journey

What do you enjoy doing on a Tuesday night after work?
I am betting your answer, like mine, has nothing to do with fighting red tape that threatens to choke out access to the best hikes in Southern BC. But here I am, writing a letter on said Tuesday night, to the District of North Vancouver Council. And what I write to them about concerns possibly the least glamourous cause you can think of: Parking.

For the second time in a calendar year, a bit of bureaucratic indifference* has threatened to completely close off access to some of the most scenic trails in the world. Unlike what some European readers may be used to, hiking in BC is almost entirely car dependent. Some of the best hiking is 30 or 40 kilometers away from the nearest city, while other trailheads pop out at the dead end of a residential neighborhood, with neighbors who are not keen on the prospect of their entire street double parked with cars from 6am onwards.

Parking is important here. It doesn’t need to be fancy, a wide spot in a dirt road will suffice. You would almost need to go out of your way to make it an issue- which is exactly what various local governments have done.

The Godfather of all parking political drama is found at The Lions trailhead. From year to year, the tactics have changed, but the message has remained the same: please do not hike here, this area is for the select few who live within walking distance of the trailhead. As of July of 2020, the solution is to charge per hour to park, up to $24 a day, for the privilege to compete for access to less than a dozen stalls. Arriving early is not optional here; No Parking signs flank the lot all and the way down the road; if you are the last hog to the trough you can park at the school, adding a kilometer each way.

Parking lot, bottom right, at 1:1 scale

Am I ecstatic about spending that kind of money to enjoy nature? No, I hate it. But I understand the costs of things like paving, and local governments needing to shoulder the costs of out-of-town guests without receiving anything in return. As for the limited spots, I’m an early riser anyhow, and hey at least you can park here… which brings us to February 2020, and how our yearly winter overnighter became ground zero for the kind of parking that makes the news.

Garibaldi Lake is a stunning place to be in the middle of winter. Tucked into the mountains, just south of Whistler, it’s the kind of place that makes the front page of Reddit every so often, and in the summer it’s equally beautiful if not a little crowded. Fortunately, its trailhead parking lot at Rubble Creek is large; unfortunately, in winter it’s not plowed.

Ok, I see why people like it

No matter, it’s already a 30km hike, what’s adding another 2k of unplowed road to the start and end of the hike? Sure, it’s not the most scenic part of the hike… and sure you need to dig out your own parking space from the icy snow which can take over an hour… and, sure, down in the valley it’s often raining rather than snowing, wetting out all your gear before you start the climb into the alpine… ok it sucks. But again, at least you can park, right?

Well in early 2020, with the help of generous support from BC Hydro (they have a dam nearby and they plow the first bit of the road to the highway), the BC government was pleased to announce that… you can’t park here anymore. In fact, you can’t park anywhere near here.

Not only will they not be plowing the parking lot, but they will also be putting up No Parking signs all along the road. With the nearest legal parking being a 10km walk along Highway 99 away, hiking and skiing Garibaldi Lake in winter was (un)officially cancelled.

If anything, they should be paying us

In fact, the offending signs were being pounded into the ground while we were enjoying our time in the Alpine. Returning to our cars, we ducked around the No Parking signs that now decorated our freshly dug parking spots and went home.

Surely this was a mistake. Some interdepartmental wires got crossed and all it will take is a few people from BC Parks to get in touch with a few people from BC Hydro and the whole thing will blow over in a couple weeks.

As usual, our civic optimism faded into political despair. A couple local news stations picked up the story and, yes, it was true. While you can still pay for your camping permit to access Garibaldi Lake, you cannot in fact legally make use of it. In fact, making use of it comes at a considerable risk to your life. Upon returning to you parking spot, cold and tired from your 30km hike and the winter sun already fading behind the trees, you will likely find your vehicle towed and, with no cell service, you’ll be facing a 25km walk to Whistler to call a cab. Well, this is not right.

I don’t consider myself an activist in the slightest. I am not proud to say it, but I tend to leave it to others to pester the government when they invariably overlook the well-being and happiness of their citizens. But let’s be honest; hiking, especially overnight, especially in winter, is a bit of a niche. There is a good chance no one will be complaining on my behalf. I started a change.org petition and emailed all the local hiking, climbing and outdoors clubs I could think of. And it turns out I wasn’t the only one- not by a long shot. The story broke on a couple news outlets, and the needle slowly started to move.

No, a few hundred signatures on my petition didn’t move mountains, not even mountains of snow. All of the heavy lifting was done by groups like Friends of Garibaldi Park, the VOC and the BCMC, along with a few hard working individuals. But I felt a part of something a little bit bigger than myself. And what do you know, a couple weeks back, BC Parks announced they entered into a one-time agreement to get road and parking lot plowed. The 2020/21 snow season will be the first time hikers will be able to park at the trailhead for Garibaldi Lake. Great news! Let’s hope, with a little more work, this continues year after year.

‘Access issues’ should be a product of terrain, not politics

And this brings us to tonight when, hot on heals of the Garibaldi Lake announcement, Jason posts an article about a new parking program at Lynn Headwaters Regional Park. The headwaters are basecamp for half a dozen hikes including the Hanes Valley route, an all-day affair. The news article indicates** that parking will now be metered at 3 dollars an hour (ugg), with a maximum stay of 3 hours. Well, the 3 dollars an hour is a bummer, but the max stay* is what really kills this project. 8-hour hikes don’t jive with 3-hour parking limits.

And that is how you end up spending a Tuesday night emailing the council of a district you don’t live in about a line item in a parking scheme.

*Update: The District of North Vancouver got back to me in the morning and assured me that the ‘max stay’ issues I brought up won’t be a part of the scheme at Lynn Headwaters.
Good job, Metro Van Parks!

**The news article has since been corrected

4 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for posting this and for starting the petition.

    We made it to Garibaldi lake a few days ago and it was the highlight of my Christmas holidays. The road was semi-ploughed so it was pretty easy to get up there with chains. Thank you sooo much for your efforts – there were lots of snowshoers and skier making the most of this when we were there.

    p.s. I am not sure if you saw, but Needle Peak/Coquihalla is the next parking area that has been closed. It is such a shame that the main way to control numbers of people seems to be just closing off access completely. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Totally agree. BC’s best tourism asset it its natural beauty. I think the obvious solution to overcrowding it to build more trails, not to close parking spots. Whatever the costs involved, you’ll make it back tenfold by keeping people healthy and out of the hospital.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yep I agree. It’s also pretty amazing how covid-19 has got soo many more people out on the trails. They might be doing the most obvious routes this year, but lots of them will start finding more original/less obvious trails if they keep hiking in future years.

        Like

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