VICTORIA -- As more people in Greater Victoria explore regional parks, the cost of maintaining them is on the rise.

The Capital Regional District (CRD) added $925,000 to the 2020 parks budget. Now, it is considering options to fund the budget increase.

“We recognized we weren’t keeping up with the infrastructure and maintenance needs for our parks system,” said CRD board chair Colin Plant. “We need to generate funds to maintain the facilities that we have, to expand and make safer other facilities that we are building and to maintain trails and playground equipment.”

To fund the added maintenance costs in regional parks, the CRD Parks Committee is reviewing park user fees, including paid parking at regional parks with more than 100,000 visitors per year.

“The parking fees have not been reviewed since 2011,” said Plant. “We as a local government believe we should be evaluating parking fees for our parks.”

From May 1 to Sept. 30, park users at Thetis Lake and Sooke Potholes parks pay $2.25 a day for parking. In a report to the parks committee, CRD staff recommended increasing the parking fees at the two parks to $7 per day.

“The committee did not endorse the increase in parking (fees),” said Plant. “We felt that that was too high and to immediately jump to that amount was inappropriate.”

Plant says the committee is asking CRD staff to to see if there is another way to generate the revenue. One of the options being considered is to implement seasonal paid parking at Elk and Beaver lake parks.

“At Thetis Lake, you pay for parking, and at Elk and Beaver lake you do not,” said Plant. “I think it is reasonable to consider paid parking at those two other parks as well.”

Plant says the CRD has had paid parking in regional parks for decades. He says when the current market is compared to other jurisdictions in B.C., the CRD has fallen behind.

“We want to find the right balance between people having access to their parks while also maintaining them,” said Plant. “These are wonderful assets that do require funding to maintain.”

Plant acknowledges that nobody wants to pay for parking. He wants park users to know that by paying for parking at the two Saanich parks it would help to maintain and make them greater.

“By keeping that in mind, I think people will feel that it’s something they can get behind paying for,” said Plant.

The CRD estimates that as many as 1.5 million people visited Elk and Beaver lake parks in 2019. If seasonal pay parking is implemented, the CRD expects it would add as much as $300,000 to CRD Parks coffers.

“We have to consider what the impact paid parking is to people who can afford it the least,” said Plant. “We are reviewing park fees in a very methodical way and we are doing this very cautiously, but we are doing this so our parks will be successful and well-maintained in the future.”

The public will be able to offer feedback regarding changes to park fees at the next CRD Parks Committee meeting. For information on paid parking in parks, visit the CRD website. []