THE 2017 Parks for All conference in Banff, Alberta highlighted the important contribution
of local and regional park systems to the overall network of parks and protected areas in Canada. This is particularly timely in light of Canada’s commitment to meet its 2020 Biodiversity Goals and Targets for Canada to protect at least 17 percent of terrestrial and inland water areas and 10 percent of coastal and marine areas. To meet this goal, it is necessary to look beyond the contributions of national and provincial/territorial park systems and consider the contributions of other protected areas systems, such as regional parks, in protecting Canada’s lands and waters.
In the case of regional park systems, they connect people with nature right where they live, work, and play. This close link to nature is vital for individual health and well-being, and for building community cohesiveness and resiliency. In an era in which an ever-increasing percentage of the global population are urban dwellers, it is essential to create ample opportunities for people to connect with nature closeby and in easily accessible ways. Regional park systems also play a critical role in protecting essential ecosystem services, including contributions to storm water filtration, climate regulation, air purification, and carbon storage through the protection of forests, wetlands, meadows, and other natural landscapes. A well-designed regional park system facilitates protection and movement of species in response to habitat fragmentation, invasive species, climate change and other impacts through strategically located connectivity corridors.
The Capital Regional District (CRD) located on southern Vancouver Island has developed an outstanding regional park system over the last 50 years that helps deliver on these protection, connection, and well-being goals. CRD Regional Parks comprises approximately 13,000 hectares of regionally significant landscapes and natural features, playing an essential role in conserving local biodiversity and in offering outstanding recreational opportunities in its 30 regional parks and three regional trails.
The CRD Regional Park system encompasses four park types, classified by management focus. Depending on a park’s predominant characteristics and purpose, it falls into one of four distinct classifications including: 1) Recreation Area; 2) Conservation Area; 3) Natural Area; or 4) Wilderness Area.
Regional Recreation Areas provide the largest range of outdoor experiences, activities and events, and are managed to accommodate a relatively high number of visitors. Regional Natural Areas and Regional Conservation Areas have a graduated emphasis on protection of the natural environment and low impact recreational activities. Regional Wilderness Areas are generally reserved for parks 1,000 hectares or larger. The management focus is on the conservation of ecosystems with minimal human interference. Regional Wilderness Areas provide opportunities for backcountry recreation where the visitor experience is one of remoteness, solitude, and harmony with nature.
Although CRD Regional Parks has several large landscapes classified as Regional Wilderness Areas, in actuality, these landscapes can more accurately be considered “near-wilderness” due to their proximity to regional population centers1. This proximity makes these parks largely accessible to the general public, even though they feature rough and remote terrain, include the presence of large carnivores, and offer limited facilities and services.
To get the most out of their near wilderness park experience, visitors need accurate information and proper preparation to confidently venture out into these landscapes. This makes it imperative for park managers to understand public perceptions of “wilderness” and what visitors think about and expect from these regional parks. Social science is an essential tool to build awareness and understanding about park visitors—essentially, social
science research can help us to understand the relationship between humans and nature.
This knowledge in turn helps park managers improve conservation practice and outcomes, and it enables us to better connect with and serve the public. CRD Regional Parks is in the process of building a solid social science program that will help us understand and respond to current and new audiences. This is especially important for supporting informed public enjoyment of our Regional Wilderness Areas. One of the most exciting aspects of park system planning and management is acquiring and opening new park lands. CRD Regional Parks is in the process of opening one of our largest Regional Wilderness Areas.
Known as the “Sea to Sea Regional Park” (Sea to Sea), the park land was acquired between 2000 and 2016, and is currently about 3900 hectares, making it the second largest park in our system. The Sea to Sea is a rugged landscape that offers park visitors the thrill of hiking in a beautiful coastal temperate rainforest where they will encounter a wide variety of native plant and animal species and diverse ecosystems and habitats. That being said, the landscape is still recovering from logging in the past century and
unregulated public access before becoming a regional park. CRD Regional Parks is opening the Sea to Sea in a phased process over several years. A key direction from the park’s
2010 management plan is to prevent the decline of wildlife in the park (which includes bears, wolves, cougars and their prey), while establishing a multiuse trail network and a backcountry camping opportunity.
It is challenging and exciting to successfully integrate these objectives. Studies show that wildlife can be displaced by human presence and it is critical that park trails and facilities are developed in such a way that both people and wildlife can coexist in relative proximity to each other. As we have seen, regional parks are important contributors to Canada’s commitment to protect at least 17% of its land base by 2020. They are also important contributors to local, provincial, and national efforts to address climate change impacts, protect essential ecosystem services, and prevent habitat fragmentation and species decline. And just as importantly, regional parks contribute to individual and community health and wellness by providing access to natural areas close to home.
CRD Regional Parks has been a leader in securing these essential benefits for people and nature for over 50 years. The vision for CRD Regional Parks sums this up well: “…regional parks and trails support the health of our region, its inhabitants, and the planet as a whole.”2 In short, CRD Regional Parks exist to protect and restore our region’s
biodiversity, offer compatible outdoor recreation and education opportunities, and provide accessible, joyful connection with the natural world. This is something to celebrate!
LYNN WILSON at email@example.com is a regional park planner with CRD Regional Parks. She prepared the 2010 Sea to Sea Regional Park Management Plan and is involved with opening
up the Sea to Sea Regional Park over the next few years. She is a frequent writer on parks and protected areas topics.