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Juan de Fuca boss wants parks closed; surge of visitors on weekend

Mike Hicks wants the province to close down parks that he feels are being crowded with people not heeding the “stay-at-home” call from health officials.
Botanical Beach near Port Renfrew.

Mike Hicks wants the province to close down parks that he feels are being crowded with people not heeding the “stay-at-home” call from health officials.

“Port Renfrew, Jordan River, Shirley and Sooke are being overwhelmed with travellers visiting the various beaches out to Port Renfrew,” said the Juan de Fuca Electoral Area director.

Hicks has asked Premier John Horgan for temporary closures of French Beach, China Beach and Botanical Beach provincial parks.

“Each has a gate and although many people will walk to the beach, 90 per cent of the public will avoid the area,” Hicks said.

He said he is sorry to be calling for such action, but the number of people using the parks is affecting rural communities.

The roads are very busy during peak travel times, he said.

“My Shirley and Port Renfrew fire chiefs have estimated the traffic volume is equivalent to when the Malahat closes,” Hicks said. “Our emergency response is not equipped for this volume and our food supplies are limited.”

He said the Port Renfrew grocery store has announced it can serve only Port Renfrew and Pacheedaht residents, and there could be similar measures coming at the East Sooke grocery store.

There were many people travelling through Sooke on the weekend, said Mayor Maja Tait.

“We’re kind of a gateway to all these other areas,” she said. “We appreciate your interest in this part of the region, however, now is the time for us to stay home. That’s been the directive.”

At a Monday news conference, Horgan addressed the issue of the large numbers of people not staying home.

“I represent the west coast of Vancouver Island and I heard from local representatives in my community that French Beach and Jordan River and China Beach were filled with people this weekend,” he said, calling it a strain on local resources.

He said that with all of the anxiety people are feeling these days, a walk along a beach “can be very restorative” and that he would have liked some time outdoors himself.

“But that’s not necessarily the best outcome for people if they’re not staying at an appropriate distance away from each other.”

Horgan said people should try taking a walk in their local communities “without interacting with other people.”

B.C. Parks has closed its campsites across the province, though some day-use areas —including those at Goldstream and Rathtrevor parks — remain open.

On Sunday, it closed all trails accessing the Stawamus Chief Provincial Park, including Stawamus Chief Peaks Trail, as well as the two main parking lots at the park.

“This decision has been made to ensure the continued health and safety of B.C. Parks visitors, employees, park contractors, volunteers and partners, and to support efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19,” B.C. Parks said in a statement.

Social media posts showed dozens of people on the trail, many not respecting recommendations to stay at least two metres away from others.

Dave Howe, electoral area director for the Southern Gulf Islands, also urged visitors to stay away and those visiting to “make plans to return to their permanent homes — you don’t know if you’ve been exposed to COVID-19.”

The southern Gulf Islands — Galiano, Mayne, Pender, Salt Spring and Saturna — are home to 16,000 people.

“I urge you to stay home and by doing so protect yourself, your family and our islands’ unique culture and way of life,” Howe said.

He said people should follow government advice to not travel unless absolutely necessary.

Gary Holman, who represents the Salt Spring Island electoral area, said the recent surge of visitors seeking refuge from the pandemic is potentially compromising the health of locals.

“We need our Gulf Islands’ precious medical resources for our most vulnerable, especially for those who are immune-compromised.”

— With a file from the Squamish Chief

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