Historical Perspective of the Forest Recreation Program – Part 1

Historical Perspective of the Forest Recreation Program – Part 1

The Forest Service recreation program originated in 1939 when a Parks Division was
established within the Forest Service to manage public recreation on all of B.C.’s Crown
lands. In 1956, the Parks Division was transferred to the newly created Ministry of
Recreation and Conservation, with a mandate to manage only those lands in provincial
parks. This left the majority of B.C.’s public forest lands without any formal recreation

Free Camping

Kitty Anne Lake,Headwaters District, Clearwater

From 1956 to 1969, the Forest Service played no role in recreation management,
except for occasionally issuing recreation-related special use permits. During this time,
unstructured public recreation use in provincial forests escalated due to increasing
population levels and an expanding network of forest access roads. This increase in
recreational activities in concentrated areas (e.g., lakeshores) resulted in sanitation and
environmental problems that clearly needed to be addressed.

In 1969, Forest Service Executive initiated a comprehensive study to identify the nature,
location and scope of the problems, and provide recommendations for corrective action.
The final report was presented in 1970, whereupon it was determined that the Forest
Service would resume its former role in recreation management on Crown lands located
outside of parks and settled areas.

With limited staff, the initial priority of the recreation program was to build facilities
and structures in areas where safety and sanitation problems were occurring. Most
of the 1970s were spent in this capacity, using a wide variety of programs to build
the infrastructure of formalized recreation sites (e.g., Forest Service Youth Crews).
Many recreation facilities were built in cooperation with recreation groups, community
organizations, and other volunteers.

A typical Recreation Site Trail Head Sign

In 1971, the first operational year, almost 200 sites were developed to accommodate over
153,000 visitors. By 1978, over 1000 sites were fully developed along with more than
2000 kilometres of trails. Visitor use began to approach 2,000,000 annually.

The Forest Service’s approach to managing recreation in provincial forests recognized
that the majority of recreationists were responsible, and while the protection of forest
recreation values was warranted, there was little need to embellish the natural attractions
that drew people to the forest. It was felt that public use of provincial forests for
recreation should continue to occur in a relatively informal, unstructured and unregulated
environment as long as it did not compromise the management of other forest resources.

Initial policies focused on introducing environmental measures, facilitating public access
to forest recreation values, and providing rustic recreation sites and trails with basic
essential facilities for public health and safety (e.g. toilets, picnic tables, fire rings). No
electrical power or potable water was provided, and the vast majority of the sites were
accessed by gravelled forestry roads.

Historical Perspective of the Forest Recreation Program Part 2