Katharine Steig: Cypress Provincial Park needs help from government, private sector

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      By Katharine Steig

      Cypress Provincial Park is located in the North Shore mountains above West Vancouver and is reportedly B.C.’s most frequently visited day-use provincial park. It has spectacular views, a wide range of hiking trails, a very popular ski area, old-growth forests, subalpine meadows, and several streams and small lakes.

      A short history

      The park was created in 1975 as a result of controversy over logging old-growth forest in Cypress Bowl under guise of ski development. There have been few periods since that time when concerns weren’t being raised about environmental protection and public recreation opportunities, mostly related to ski expansion. In recent years, relationships among park stakeholders have improved, largely due to a change in ski facility ownership. But many park problems remain and are likely to increase as a result of inadequate park funding and staffing levels, previous planning decisions, and increased park use, caused in part by Olympic publicity.

      Increased pressure on park trails

      Many of the park’s trails are in poor condition. Several need major upgrades. The Vancouver Olympic organizing committee’s 2006 environmental assessment report for Cypress anticipates that more people will use the park after the Games, which could negatively “affect the physical quality of the Park (e.g., erosion on trails)”. But although Vanoc invested an estimated $16.7 million in ski area improvements for the Games, it contributed only $400,000 in Olympic Legacy funding: $300,000 for upgrading the Howe Sound Crest Trail and $100,000 toward Hollyburn Lodge restoration. The Federation of Mountain Clubs of B.C. is working with B.C. Parks to find needed funds to complete the nearly $900,000 Howe Sound Crest Trail project. Surely $1 million in Legacy funding would have been more appropriate compensation for impacts on the park.

      Lack of funding for trail improvements

      For over seven years, B.C. Parks’ $300,000 request for Black Mountain Plateau trail upgrades has been repeatedly approved by Victoria, then turned down by Treasury Board. The plateau trails are notoriously boggy. A few years ago, a hiker fell into a bog almost to her waist and had to be rescued by fellow hikers. B.C. Parks recently informed the Friends of Cypress Provincial Park Society that the ministry must focus on “health and safety needs within the parks system” and therefore the needed funds for Black Mountain trails are not likely to be available in 2009 or 2010: “Safety measures will be taken by BC Parks staff to inform hikers of the trail conditions and at times trail closures may be necessary to ensure public safety.”

      B.C. Parks hopes that increased interest in Cypress as a result of the Games will encourage corporations to show interest in funding trail upgrades in the park. Since B.C. Parks’ operating budget declined from $41 million in 1999 to $30 million in 2008 (for 691 parks and recreation areas), even before the economic downturn, B.C. Parks clearly needs help. Having invited the world to B.C. for the Olympics, governments and corporations have a responsibility to ensure that when the expected visitors return after the Games, they will not be disappointed by the poor condition of Cypress’s hiking trails.

      Protecting the natural environment

      The park’s natural environment can be negatively affected by both development and recreational use. Concern continues about lack of government compensation for impacts to the Cypress Creek watershed from recent forest loss on Black Mountain and increased impervious surfaces associated with the new Cypress Creek Lodge and parking area. Future cross-country ski development may result in loss of native habitat. Vegetation along improperly maintained hiking trails can be destroyed as hikers try to avoid muddy sections. Uninformed visitors can cause long-term damage to wetland vegetation by creating new trails alongside ponds.

      Maintaining a cooperative, on-going relationship among park stakeholders, with thorough reviews of all plans by all affected stakeholder organizations, and providing adequate government funding to ensure a real park ranger presence at Cypress are essential for protection of the park’s natural environment in the future.

      Katharine Steig is the president of the Friends of Cypress Provincial Park Society.