Walkers ascend Mount Douglas Park on Sunday, Feb. 7. Visits to Saanich Parks are up 46 per cent compared to pre-pandemic statistics this time last year. (Darrell Wick Photo)

Walkers ascend Mount Douglas Park on Sunday, Feb. 7. Visits to Saanich Parks are up 46 per cent compared to pre-pandemic statistics this time last year. (Darrell Wick Photo)

Oak Bay, Saanich parks peak in popularity during pandemic

Oak Bay spent an extra $5,000 on park toilet paper in 2020

With social and athletic gatherings banned, people are taking to the parks.

For the Friends of Mount Douglas Park the eye test is enough to say there are far more people traversing the parks than during non-pandemic times.

And Saanich has the numbers to back it up, as park visits have increased in Saanich parks on a whole, said parks senior manager Eva Riccius.

Google analytics data, based on cell phone location services, show Saanich park visits are up 46 per cent in January over January 2020. The Capital Regional Parks reported a 25 per cent uptick in visits to regional parks for 2020, a total of 8,529,256 visits.

“It is really great that residents and visitors have discovered and rediscovered our over 170 parks and over 100 km of trails,” Riccius said. “There is lots of evidence that being outside in nature is good for our physical and mental health and that people are finding respite in local and regional parks.”

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Park visits are also up in Oak Bay, though the metrics are not nearly so sophisticated, said Chris Hyde-Lay, manager of parks services.

“I can tell you that park visits were up considerably in 2020 (especially at Willows) by the amount of toilet paper we used in our washrooms and how much garbage we picked up at our various parks and along the waterfront,” Hyde-Lay said. “We also implemented extra washroom cleanings and garbage pickup for the summer months due to increased park activity.”

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However, many Saanich parks and the likes of Uplands and Anderson Hill in Oak Bay are also home to a fine balance of park usage and the ecologically sensitive areas that make the parks special.

And with more visitors comes the instinct during a pandemic to make a wide berth as people pass each other, which means stepping off the trails.

“It tramples the plants, so we’re seeing trail widening or sprawl,” said longtime advocate Darrell Wick of the Friends of Mount Douglas Park Society.

Wick says the common refrain among park regulars these days is the growth in numbers. Another worry is the use of rogue trails, as rogue trails beget more rogue trails.

“We want people to remember that Saanich parks provide vital habitat for plants and animals. Please help us protect these special places by treading carefully, taking only memories, and leaving nothing but footprints,” Riccius said.

reporter@oakbaynews.com