The May 6 announcement made by Premier John Horgan, regarding B.C.’s restart plan, will bring relief to people who have been cooped up in their homes, to ensure social distancing. With most recreational sites set to reopen on May 14 for day-use activities, B.C. residents can look forward to an active summer, with restraint of course, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Lakes District residents will also be able to enjoy the day-use of the 28 recreation sites and two parks in the area, starting May 15. The Recreation Sites and Trails BC (RSTBC) contracts the maintenance of these recreation sites to Lakes Outdoor Recreation Society (LORS), who are gearing up for maintenance of these sites, for the season.
“The RSTBC contracts LORS, and we hire a sub contractor to take care of the sites on a weekly basis for the entire summer and they actually started today,” said Garth Schienbein, president of LORS on Monday, May 11. The contractors go out and clean the outhouses, cut grass, empty the fire pits. Schienbein also said that the contractors make assessment of all the sites to make sure there are no dangerous trees that need to be removed, or are half fallen and would injure somebody at the site.
Usually, LORS starts the maintenance work on these recreational sites two weeks before the long weekend. However this time, due to COVID-19, they were prepared to not open the sites at all. “As far as we knew, we weren’t opening and then we got a mandate saying we can open now on this date. So this time we couldn’t start the work two weeks before,” said Schienbein.
The restart plan includes opening of several services starting mid-May, like hair salons, in-person counselling, museums, art galleries, libraries, transit services, parks, beaches, recreation and sports and several other services that were shut down since two months, as per Premier Horgan’s Pandemic Response Plan.
“Today, we’ve unveiled our plan for a slow and safe restart. We need to be vigilant, to make sure we keep flattening the curve of transmission,” Premier Horgan said during his May 6 announcement.
Schienbein is also cautious in approaching the opening of the sites especially when it comes to maintaining the sites on a regular basis. “We have been given a directive by the RSTBC, as procedures that we need to undertake, but the problem for us is that for most of our sites, we visit once a week,” he said. When a site is maintained once a week only, chances are that it would remain ignored for six days until the next round of maintenance. However, increasing the number of times they carry out maintenance is also not a feasible option according to Schienbein, “only because we can’t afford to do it more often.”
Maintenance of the recreation sites and the costs associated with this maintenance, has been an issue in the Lakes District area for a while now. The sites cover a large area and maintaining that expanse of area and paying the contractors for double the maintenance in the existing funding is impossible for the LORS according to Schienbein. “We get money from RSTBC, Chinook Community Forest and Burns Lake Community Forest, and a small amount of money from B.C. parks but it is still not enough money to cover all of our contractors costs,” he said. He also added that although having somebody going around and cutting grass, cleaning fire pits, picking up garbage and maintaining the outhouses was the very bare minimum of what they do, it was however still hard, as all of that also costs money.
LORS is now resting some of its hope in the outcome of the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako’s (RDBN) recreational sites survey. “RDBN is doing a feasibility study, to see if they can add a parks component to the regional district of Bulkley-Nechako. So part of the tax revenue that is generated, in that region would then possibly be denoted to a parks component,” he said. This would mean a steady stream of money going towards the maintenance of the recreation sites. Until then however, Schienbein hopes that apart from the precautions and maintenance that LORS will undertake, people would take their own precautions as well.
The LORS Facebook page shared the Premier’s announcement, along with a note informing the public that although the sites would open for day use, they would continue to remain closed for camping. “Please respect this by not camping and by meeting the guidelines of the Provincial Health Officer, or they could very well be closed again. On June 1, if all goes well RSTBC will re-open most recreation sites to camping,” says the post.
Schienbein also remarked on this reopening and expressed hope that people would take their own precautions in order to maintain the social distancing while being out on the trails and enjoying the recreation sites. “This Spring has been so beautiful up here and people would love to be out camping and you can’t control how people behave. So we just hope that people will behave responsibly and they take special care because we don’t want to jeopardize the potential opening,” he added.