A Metro Vancouver park user is speaking out after being turned away from Buntzen Lake, despite having a reservation for day use on Sunday.
Lindsay Heller told Global News she stayed up until midnight on Friday to secure the afternoon booking, and felt like she had “won the lottery” when she secured an afternoon timeslot for the long-weekend Sunday.
Under a pilot project implemented by BC Hydro, which owns and operates the lake, attendees need to book a free reservation in order to access the lake this year, an initiative meant to cut down on congestion and illegal parking on nearby streets.
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“I could have got the full day one but I knew we weren’t going to be there in the morning so we took the afternoon slot and we planned our whole day around it — packed up the kids and off we went,” she said.
On Sunday, Heller, her husband, their two kids, and her father packed up all their gear, made lunch and piled into the car and made the 80-minute drive to the lake. The family intentionally arrived around 4:30 p.m. anticipating the morning swimmers — whose booking ended at two — would have cleared out, she said.
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Instead, they arrived at the parking lot only to be turned away by staff.
“They told us they weren’t honouring the afternoon reservations because the morning folks hadn’t left yet and there was no parking,” she said, adding she asked staff what they were doing to fix the problem.
“They didn’t have an answer for us. I do feel bad for them. It seemed like they were pretty ill-equipped to deal with that. You know, they’re young people standing in the sun as well,” she said.
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“But we had also made an entire day of this, and it’s not a 15-minute drive for us.”
Staff directed them to go to a nearby mall and come back later, but said they couldn’t guarantee there would be a space for them, she said.
The family went and got ice cream and came back about an hour and a half later, when they were finally allowed access — about 30 minutes before the sun set behind the ridge.
“It was better than nothing, but it did ruin our day and made it not as fun as it was supposed to be,” she said.
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On Monday, BC Hydro spokesperson Simi Heer apologized to reservation holders who were turned away.
Heer said the park operators were dealing with a unique situation: two consecutive missing person reports that required a grid search and that drew staff away from the beach and parking lot.
“In this situation, our parks staff would go around and ask people whose passes were expiring to leave, but unfortunately they were called to two emergency situations back to back and they weren’t able to do that,” she said.
Next month, you’ll need a reservation to park at Buntzen Lake
Heer said this was the first time in the five-week-old pilot project that reservation-holders had been turned away.
She said BC Hydro would incorporate the lessons from the incident when it reviewed the initiative at the end of summer. But she said park users need to do their part too.
“For the system to work, we do need people who book times to leave when their time expires.”
“We’re all in on this together, and we’re doing our best to learn and modify procedures as we go, but we also need people to do the right thing.”
For Heller, the experience put a damper on what was supposed to be a fun family outing.
She said that the reservation policy seemed to be working in terms of preventing illegal parking in the area, but that there were obvious issues to be addressed for park users.
“It is really frustrating because I did the right thing, and I believe in fairness, and it’s the morning people that just didn’t care,” she said.
“If you decide to be there until 2 p.m. … and you just decide to stay, I think the car should be towed. It’s only fair to the people who put an entire afternoon of work in to come and enjoy the area with their families.”
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