One positive to come out of these pandemic times is the amount of people spending time outdoors and on the trails.
Creator of tofinohiking.com and vancouvertrails.com Mike Chang says web traffic to his Vancouver site hit a record high and visitors to his Tofino site went up by 30 per cent in 2020 compared to the year before.
“Last year, I noticed a lot of families were out. And I don’t mean like parents and kids, I mean the grandma, parent, kid thing. It was like three generations of family, which is something I never really saw in the past on trails,” said Chang.
“I’m really happy to see all the people out hiking. I think it’s great. It’s great exercise. It’s such a healthy thing to do and we all pay for these Parks,” he said.
As a result in the surge of hikers, one big challenge people faced in the summer of 2020, especially in the Sea to Sky area, was the overcrowding.
Joffre Lakes Provincial Park is particularly overrun. From 2010 to 2018, BC Parks reported a 222 per cent increase in people who visited the park. The province is now in the midst of developing a visitor use management strategy in partnership with the Lil’wat Nation and N’Quatqua as result of the overcrowding.
Chang said a small percentage of people directed their frustrations at his sites, saying stuff like “you ruined the trails” and “this lake used to be ‘my’ go to place until you told everyone.” He tuned out of social media for a while because of the backlash.
“I think a lot of it comes from Instagram. When the photos get out, people want to go there. They are public lands funded by tax dollars, and they are for everybody to see. There is nothing wrong with people wanting to go there,” he said, adding that by providing directions people get a safer experience.
Chang thinks the demand for trails is not going to go away and that there needs to more of a focus placed on outdoor recreation.
“If I look at Garibaldi Provincial Park, which is the hot spot in the area, we haven’t really added any trails in decades and meanwhile the population has expanded by millions,” he said. “But there has to be a balance between conservation and recreation,” he went on to say. “Right now, you are seeing people go out and just find their own trails in come cases, which is causing a lot of damage to those parks in some areas.”
Chang originally launched vancouvertrails in 2007 with his wife Linda Bakker as a communication tool to educate folks about Leave No Trace principles, not feeding wildlife, trail safety, and to help people find consistent trail information.
“Hiking has always been a relaxation thing for me. It’s always been a way to distress and take my mind off of those every day life things you have to deal with work. When I get out into the forest or the alpine, I just don’t think about anything else. I just enjoy that moment and that scenery I’m in.”
A sturdy backpack and hiking shoes are two pieces of gear Chang recommends investing in, plus packing lots of water during the summer.
And as for his reward of choice for reaching the summit?
“Chocolate chip cookies,” he said.
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