Tents, bikes, and stand-up paddleboards flew off the shelves and quickly became hard-to-find commodities. The BC Parks campsite reservation system crashed on the day it opened and over 35,000 bookings were made in just 5 hours. Day-use hiking passes for British Columbia’s most popular provincial parks were introduced to control the number of visitors each day. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, regular physical activity can reduce the risk or chronic diseases such as heart disease, hypertension, stroke, type-2 diabetes and it has immense benefits for mental well-being as well.
The outdoors is often painted as free and accessible. This is, unfortunately, not the case. This policy report highlights the barriers that people face, which impact diversity on the trails. While it is impossible to list all of the barriers that each individual faces within all of the different sports, the factors are typically social, financial, historical, and cultural. For example, more intense, equipment-centric sports such as mountain biking and skiing have high costs of entry due to the expensive gear, apparel, and lessons. Furthermore, it can be time-consuming to travel to the venue, which may not be accessible by public transportation and requires a personal vehicle.
While researching for this policy brief, it became obvious that there is a severe insufficiency of available data that tracks the demographics of the people who are participating in outdoor recreation in Canada. The lack of data hinders the possibility for programs that aim to increase diversity and inclusion in the outdoors by reducing barriers and increasing access to people with disabilities and people who identify as Black, Indigenous, People of Colour, women, and LGBTQIA2S+.
This policy brief aims to lobby the BC Ministry of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport, the BC Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, the BC Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, as well as organizations and businesses in the outdoor industry, to consider implementing the following recommendations into policy:
1. Implement an Outdoor Equity Grant Program that partners with private businesses to provide funding for marginalized communities.
2. Implement a Government-Backed Equipment Loan Assistance program that offers payment plans for people wishing to purchase gear in installments.
3. Provide specialty outdoor programming to Grades 1–12 at underserved schools
4. Advocate for BC Parks and outdoor industry to collect demographic-based data in Canada to better inform policies and design programs for marginalized communities.
In order for the outdoors to become truly accessible, it is imperative that First Nations communities play a key role in the decision-making process. Indigenous people have stewarded the lands since time immemorial, and the “public” land that is now used for recreational purposes was once used for ceremony, harvesting, hunting, and other activities. Ultimately, to exist on stolen ancestral lands is a privilege that should not be taken lightly.
In a world and time where everyone is encouraged to spend time outside, it is important to pay attention to who is on the trail, and who is not, and to reflect on the conditions that have led to this discrepancy.