Part of Colony Farm Regional Park in Coquitlam.

Metro parks plan to welcome business ventures

Services modest so far but critic wonders what's next

An updated regional parks master plan would entrench Metro Vancouver’s new strategy of allowing more for-profit recreational activities and other money-making ventures in its parks to help defray costs.

The draft Regional Parks and Greenways Plan adds a new goal to “promote philanthropy and economic opportunities” in Metro parks.

It says Metro will pursue enhanced services and and programs consistent with park settings to expand the range of outdoor recreation opportunities while generating non-tax revenue streams.

A staff report says alternative revenue is of “great interest” to Metro due to the shortfall between the regional park system’s core funding from Metro property taxes and demand for more facilities and programs.

“We’re seriously looking at enhanced services,” said Metro parks committee chair Gayle Martin, a Langley City councillor.

So far those have not been intensely controversial, although Metro previously rejected a golf academy at Tynehead Regional Park in Surrey and says pay-to-play activities like zip lines aren’t being actively pursued.

The latest new venture has been dog obedience classes that were tested this summer at Pacific Spirit Regional Park. The classes are to be offered at six parks next year and are projected to turn an annual profit of $28,000 for Metro.

Dog bath services are being eyed and Metro intends to take over the event tent rental business in its parks, a service previously handled by private operators.

A “grander proposal” for enhanced park services is being considered, but Martin would not say what it is, except it would likely be located in Campbell Valley Regional Park.

Metro this summer began selling an improved paid version of its iParks Navigator smart phone app for $2.99. Officials hoped to sell 30,000 copies in the first year, but Martin said there’s so far been only a couple hundred paid downloads, compared to more than 1,500 for the free version.

Beverage vending machines have also been added to some parks – despite another Metro policy that aims to reduce bottled water use in favour of tap water.

Martin defended the sale of bottled water through the newly installed machines, saying many Metro parks aren’t equipped with drinking fountains.

She said Metro plans to screen the machines to hide commercial cola company logos.

The region’s parks now generate enough revenue to offset nine per cent of operating costs and Metro aims to boost that to 15 per cent over the next 10 years.

Elaine Golds, spokesperson for the Burke Mountain Naturalists, is concerned the plan is vague and that expanded private sector initiatives could allow commercial farming of park land.

“I’m really concerned we’ll see negative impact on wildlife,” she said.

“It has an economic strategy in it, an opportunity with the private sector, without spelling things out. That’s certainly a concern.”

Golds is also worried the timeline for public input is too short.

An open house on the plan at Metro Vancouver’s Burnaby headquarters is set for Sept. 14 from 6 to 8 p.m. and an online webinar is planned from 11:30 to 12:30 Sept. 15.

She noted a sustainability plan for Colony Farm, expected next week, will also be rushed and short shrift given to public input.

“Metro Vancouver has lost track of what public consultation really is.”

– with files from Diane Strandberg, Tri-City News