VANCOUVER — A British Columbia park that straddles the 49th parallel with Washington state will be closed because it’s overwhelmed with visitors using it as a cross-border meeting point.
The government says Peace Arch Provincial Park was scheduled to be shut Thursday evening to address public safety and traffic concerns after the volume of visitors reached nearly twice the number counted on a peak summer day.
“The significant increase in visitors at Peace Arch Park has become unmanageable and raising public safety and traffic concerns for surrounding communities,” Environment Minister George Heyman said in a statement.
BC Parks said it has consulted with the RCMP, border officials and local communities.
Several measures were tried to manage the numbers of visitors, such as increasing enforcement patrols, installing a permanent gate and reducing hours, but those didn’t work in controlling the numbers of people using the park from both sides of the border, it added in a statement.
Heyman and BC Parks acknowledged the difficulties those with loved ones across the border have faced in trying to stay in contact, but emphasized the risks of keeping the park open had grown too large.
BC Parks expressed hope that exemptions to the Quarantine Act would also help soften the blow for those who have family members across the border.
The federal government is allowing immediate family members of Canadian citizens or permanent residents to enter Canada with family members as long as they have no symptoms of COVID-19 and self-isolate for 14 days after arrival.
Kimiko Carpoff, who lives on the border, said she’s noticed an increase in traffic since the park reopened in May but disagrees with the decision to close it.
“What, we’re supposed to play on the street? Sit on the street? People use the park because it’s a park,” she said. “Personally, I think it’s much more problematic to close the park. It’s our green space.”
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the park was not closed because of COVID-19 but because of concerns about the number of people it was attracting.
While the decision is not related to public health, Henry said the restrictions on border crossings because of the pandemic caused people to connect with family and friends through the park.
“I am not aware of any cases that are related to contacts in the park,” she told a news conference in Victoria.
“The issues are related to COVID-19, but not specifically the risk of transmission. … It’s a very challenging time for many people and some people were able to be in contact at the park with their loved ones.
“But like the rest of us in the province we need to find other ways of being able to contact our family and friends and our neighbours who live in Washington state.”
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A spokeswoman for Washington state said there are no plans to close the park on the American side.
“While our parking lots have been full most days, we do not have the same challenges as our Canadian counterparts and do not have any safety concerns at this time,” Anna Gill of the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission said in an email.
The Canadian side of the Peace Arch Park was officially dedicated in 1939, 18 years after the creation of its famous arch.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 18, 2020.