More hiking, mountain biking and dog walking amid the COVID-19 pandemic led to a 64 per cent increase in city trail usage last year and the highest-ever recorded numbers of people out and about.
The city has released year-end parks usage data it compiled for a dozen trail heads across Kamloops, including Aviation Way in Brocklehurst and West Highland Park in Aberdeen.
In 2020, the city saw 1,003,278 visits, compared to 612,000 the previous year. In addition, it is the most visits the city has recorded since it first started tracking in 2006 (though a couple of trail heads have been added since that time).
City of Kamloops parks manager Jeff Putnam explained the data does not provide exact usage figures, with only a sampling of trails counted, and it does not represent people, but visits counted via a laser counter hidden at various trailheads.
However, Putnam added, the numbers are useful in indicating trends and trail usage over time.
Putnam said the city’s population is growing, but not enough to account for a 64 per cent spike in trail usage, meaning more people are getting outside. Putnam attributed the increase in 2020 to the COVID-19 pandemic, including pandemic puppies leading to more dog walking on city trails and more people taking up cycling and hiking. Putnam said that the trend continued in winter months, with more people snowshoeing and snowbiking.
Putnam said the city’s investment in natural space is contributing positively to residents’ quality of life.
However, as a result of increased usage, the trails are seeing more wear and tear, including more dog feces and the trampling of vegetation.
Putnam said the most significant wear and tear has resulted from “braiding” of trails, essentially people making their own shortcuts and not sticking to formalized pathways. Putnam said that due to semi-arid environmental conditions, it can take many years to rehabilitate vegetation in the hills around Kamloops. While reseeding can bring back grasses quickly, cacti, sagebrush and ponderosa pine trees are slow to return. Putnam said city staff have put up signs to close informal trails in Kenna Cartwright Park, the largest municipal park in the province.
“That’s the biggest challenge we’ve got right now,” Putnam said.
On Tuesday, Feb. 9, city council will be asked, during budget deliberations, to approve another parks staffer and arborist. The request was deferred last year amid the pandemic due to budget concerns; however, Putnam said the need is even more pressing, with the increased trail usage of late.
“We’re hiring more staff, we’ll be doing proactive trail maintenance — in terms of getting on top of informal trails that started — improving signage and, of course, we’ve got a lot more dog walkers, so there’s a lot more managing of the waste on the trails,” he said.
Also planned for this spring is the addition of a dog park in Dallas, repairing the Schubert Drive portion of the Rivers Trail and improvements on McArthur Island.