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Opinion: It's time to examine day-use reservations at Joffre Lakes

The marketing worked. More than 170,000 people visit every year. But is there room for all of them?
Joffre Lakes
Joffre Lake's beauty attracts tens of thousands of visitors every summer.

On the Canada Day long weekend, I drove past the parking lot for Joffre Lakes on my way to hike a much less crowded mountain.

While I was prepared to see vehicles lined up and down the Duffey Lake Road as makeshift overflow parking for the substantial parking lot, I was surprised by how many people — some with small children — were walking out on the highway with no regard for vehicles whizzing by.

It was an accident waiting to happen.

Are we tired of talking about how overrun this accessible and Instagrammable location is yet? Whistler and Pemberton have been watching the number of visitors balloon to a height of 170,000 last year — with numbers predicted to grow in 2018.

Slowly, we're seeing the province trying to come up with solutions. The first — to which I am vehemently opposed — was banning dogs from the area year-round.

The next idea is coming from local government. The Village of Pemberton (VOP) is bringing a "conversation starter" resolution to the Union of BC Municipalities convention in September to look at a reservation system that would cap the number of people in the area per day.

I get why this is unpalatable upon first glance. For one, if it includes a fee, it can feel kind of gross to charge people to access the outdoors that we're all meant to share.

West Vancouver-Sea-to-Sky MLA Jordan Sturdy also argues that if tourists can't access Joffre, they'll start spreading further out and it's better to concentrate visitation in one area.

While that's a solid point, I don't believe that most tourists in two-wheel-drive rental cars will feel confident navigating water bars and potholes on dangerous forest service roads to unmarked trailheads.

Tourists choose Joffre specifically because it offers a parking lot (or side-of-the-highway parking) and it's a clearly marked, well-maintained trail. They're not going to get lost or get their vehicle stuck or encounter anything unexpected.

Bookings for day use — which are not used by any other provincial park in B.C. — are a good idea for several reasons. For one, unlike banning dogs, it will quickly and effectively curb the number of visitors to more sustainable levels. Patrols don't need to occur daily, but as long as an official is patrolling regularly, the threat of a penalty will be enough to deter many people. (It works, after all, for camping at Black Tusk, for example.)

Second, bookings—even with a nominal fee — would give the province an opportunity to educate visitors before they even set foot on the trail. When visitors log on to book their trip, it can be accompanied by information like, "Hey, did you know only dirtbags leave trash in the pristine wilderness?" (Or perhaps something gentler.)

Finally, a fee could help fund maintenance on the busy trail and more park rangers to patrol the area. Advocates have long argued that the province's tourism arm has done a great job of showing off how stunning our wilderness in the corridor is — but then have left us without the resources to manage the masses when that marketing worked.

(It should be noted that the VOP includes Strawberry Point and Semaphore Lakes as candidates for day-trip bookings. But frankly, I was at Semaphore last weekend and save for one large group, it was completely reasonable.)

Forcing people to plan ahead and book a hike the way they might book a hotel doesn't feel great. It might come across as just one more fee to pay — or lessen the wild-and-free access to the wilderness that we enjoy here. But we have to face facts that times have changed and Joffre isn't reverting back to being a locals' secret ever again.

Instead of complaining, it's time to discuss solutions — even if they delve into territory the province hasn't been in before. Instead of sacrificing one place to 170,000 people a year who may or may not pack out their trash, tread only on the trail and use designated outhouses, let's come up with ideas to try and protect all of the wilderness the corridor offers.

And good on the VOP for aiming to start that conversation.


Alyssa Noel is the arts and entertainment editor of Pique Newsmagazine.