The regional park system has grown from just over 8400 hectares in 2000 to over 13,000 hectares in 2017. This growing park system helps protect the environment and biodiversity in the region, and provides residents with opportunities to connect with nature through outdoor recreation. Visitation to regional parks and trails has also grown, from 5.2 million in 2010 to 7.3 million in 2017, an increase of 40%.
Parks Operating Budget
In 2018, the CRD has allocated a budget of approximately $13.4 million for the Regional Parks Service to protect natural environments and continue to offer safe and high quality outdoor recreation experiences to park visitors. Of this amount, approximately $1.1 million is dedicated to develop and improve infrastructure within regional parks and trails. These funds, when possible, are supplemented by grants and contributions from other levels of government, which have averaged approximately $1.7 million over the last 10 years. The overall budget includes the Land Acquisition Fund, a separate property tax dedicated to the acquisition of land for regional parks and trails, which generates approximately $3.7 million yearly.
Increased visitation to parks and trails results in more impacts on facilities and the environment. Some major facilities also need to be repaired or replaced in the near future to ensure the safety and enjoyment of park visitors. For example, the repairs to the Todd Creek Trestle that are occurring in 2018 are expected to cost $1.2 million. Additionally, with the possible acquisition of more parkland through the Land Acquisition Fund in the near future, more costs for managing regional parks and trails are expected. If we are to protect park environments and continue to offer quality outdoor recreation experiences in an expanding park system, choices need to be made about how to allocate funds.
Public Opinion Survey
In 2018, the CRD ran an online public opinion survey for 14 weeks to obtain preliminary information on the public’s views regarding the future of the fund. The survey showed 89% of participants were in favour of extending the Land Acquisition Fund for another 10 years, which is consistent with previous household surveys. 77% of respondents supported using the fund to buy parkland, even if facilities for public use might not be developed for many years. A survey report offers an in-depth analysis of the opinions and suggestions received from self-selected survey participants.
The CRD Board has identified important next steps for the Regional Parks Land Acquisition Fund that will guide priorities for regional parks and trails over the next ten years. The Board will look at renewing the fund beyond 2019 and, if it is renewed, whether some portion of that fund should be used for facilities and maintenance in regional parks.
Prior to the Board making a decision on the future of the LAF, staff are preparing relevant information for the Board to review. Information for the Board to consider includes criteria for future land acquisitions, landscape evaluation outcomes, and options on service level adjustments to maintain the Regional Parks system as a whole. Staff have also been directed to report back on potential opportunities to partner with other organizations to leverage funding and increase acquisitions, while ensuring CRD interests are met through covenants and joint ownership opportunities.