I recently took an eye-opening road trip across B.C. and back on Highway 3.
The famous scenery exceeded my expectations, and I came home with a new appreciation of how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful part of the world. Our provincial parks are nothing less than a public treasure.
But I also got a sobering first-hand view of how those parks are suffering from a lack of maintenance in this era of government austerity.
The first destination of our trip was Fort Steele, the heritage site near Cranbrook. I'm a big fan of these living-history displays where interpreters in period costume bring to life the old buildings and artifacts. The best one I've ever seen is the French fort of Louisbourg in Nova Scotia, a national historic site, and I've seen the same concept executed well in many places in the U.S. and Canada.
Fort Steele, sadly, was a disappointment. Many of the buildings were closed, the displays had a shabby look, and the buildings that were open featured mostly opportunities to spend money on touristy gimmicks such as costumed photos. With its faded, peeling paint and collapsing buildings, the whole site appeared well on its way to returning to ghost town status.
I wondered at this dismal state of affairs, but all was explained by a small, apologetic note on a Fort Steele brochure. "On April 1, 2004, the Friends of Fort Steele Society began the first of a 15-year agreement to manage Fort Steele Heritage Town on behalf of the Province of British Columbia. The province continues to own all the buildings, artifacts and archives held on site, and while provincial funding has been reduced by half, it still exists."
We found a similar neglect at Kokanee Creek Provincial Park near Nelson. This lovely lakefront park is a deservedly popular camping spot, and staff make a valiant effort to continue nature education programs. But several trails are closed because they have become unsafe, and everything at the visitors' centre, from the display of birds' eggs to the slide show of the alpine country, seemed to be at least 20 years old. A park staffer was apologetic when I asked for a map of nearby Kokanee Glacier Park, telling me that B.C. Parks no longer prints the maps but expects people to get them off the Internet.
It seems shortsighted in the extreme to let these wonderful places, which are the collective property of all British Columbians, fall into disrepair as a result of cost cutting.
***This is the last column I'll be writing for Coast Reporter as I am leaving the newspaper's employment at the end of August. After 14 years of reporting the news on the Sunshine Coast, I have decided to put aside my notebook and take on some new challenges. This has been a great community in which to practise journalism. Thanks to all the people who have made the job so interesting.