Through park improvements and messaging, BC Parks wants people to know that “Everyone is welcome in nature.”
The message, coming during AccessAbility Week in BC, carries the spirit of a renewed commitment by BC Parks to make outdoor recreation both more accessible and inclusive.
With more than 23 million visits each year, BC Parks has seen a significant increase in the diversity of park visitors over the past decade, with park visitation reaching record highs.
This has been especially evident during the pandemic, when many indoor recreation opportunities were closed, and more people embraced both the fitness and wellness possibilities of being out in nature.
A survey last summer from the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society suggested British Columbians are visiting provincial parks more than ever before, and that 2020 was one of the busiest summers on record for BC Parks. At the time, 70 per cent of respondents said they were likely to travel only within B.C. for the next 12 months, and almost 90 per cent said they were more or as likely to travel to provincial parks compared to last year.
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To convey the principle that nature is for all, BC Parks is expanding accessibility through new projects in campgrounds, day-use areas, playgrounds and a new welcome sign.
“BC Parks is working hard to connect people, places and practices so that from the first point of contact to the moments of awe on the trails, all people of all backgrounds, identities, abilities and cultures can feel like they belong and can be a part of stewarding connections,” says Carinna Kenigsberg, director of programs and impact for Power To Be, a non-profit organization that creates access to nature for youth, families and adults living with cognitive, physical, financial and social barriers. “From your earliest days, being in a park gives you a connection to the natural world in a way that only nature can facilitate. That connection is something everyone should be able to experience.”
To ensure everyone can get out and enjoy nature, BC Parks continues to make accessibility upgrades in parks throughout the province and incorporate universal design standards in new campgrounds and recreation sites.
Accessibility upgrades were recently completed at Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park near Parksville and Loveland Bay Provincial Park near Campbell River.
At Rathtrevor Beach Park, the day-use parking lot has been paved. Accessible trail work is underway around the main day-use area. At Loveland Bay, several upgrades were made, including a reconstructed beach area with picnic tables, a universally designed beach access ramp and an additional 21 campsites.
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New accessibility information is also being added to the BC Parks website, including photos and descriptions of facilities at the parks.
“Our provincial parks are a place for everyone, and these initiatives are the beginning of a renewed commitment and an important step in our long-term commitment to inclusion, equity and diversity,” says Kelly Greene, Parliamentary Secretary for Environment.
New welcome signs are also being installed at BC Parks entrance points, such as parking lots, kiosks, campgrounds and trailheads.
“The new signs are a welcoming reminder to visitors about B.C.’s rich diversity,” says Rachna Singh, Parliamentary Secretary for Anti-Racism Initiatives. “This is a great first step and we are committed to doing more to make our parks inclusive and accessible.”
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