The Cultus Lake Park Board is considering raising the public parking rates at the two main lots to $5 an hour for 2019. That compares to $3.50 an hour at Stanley Park or Granville Island. (Paul Henderson/ The Progress)

Cultus Lake Park to have highest public parking rates from Chilliwack to Vancouver

Waterpark owner decries proposed increase and signage that deters Lower Mainland visitors

Some Cultus Lake business owners are upset that public parking rates may become the highest of any prominent tourist destination from Chilliwack to Stanley Park.

The Cultus Lake Park Board (CLPB) plan to raise the already high rates of $3 an hour to $5 an hour is keeping Fraser Valley residents away, and is hurting local visitation, according to the largest commercial draw in the area.

Chris Steunenberg owns Cultus Lake Waterpark and he’s one of several major local business owners who are frustrated with a perception that the park board is discouraging people from visiting Cultus Lake.

“We all depend on the influx of tourists from outside the community to come up there,” Steunenberg said. “We are supposed to be a recreational park for the city of Chilliwack and the community at large. Raising the rates is a blatant disregard for the livelihood of the businesses.”

Steunenberg said he has polled guests and found that parking rates are a deterrent to Chilliwack residents to visit Cultus.

“Chilliwack and Abbotsford is my bread and butter,” he said. “They are the ones who come when the weather is iffy.”

In a brief analysis of parking rates at attractions around the Lower Mainland, parking in Cultus Lake’s two main lots, at $3 an hour or $12 a day, are higher than the average of several places, including Harrison Hot Springs, White Rock Waterfront, Fort Langley Village, Granville Island, Stanley Park or the Whistler Village day lot.

The average hourly rate of those locations is about $2.30. With the proposal to raise the rates to $5 an hour and $15 a day, Cultus would be $1.50 higher than even Stanley Park or Granville Island.

Parking at Cultus Lake has long been the subject of frustration and debate among local residents and residents of Chilliwack for whom the park was originally created in 1932.

• READ MORE: Illegal vehicles parked at Cultus Lake to get the boot

Cultus Lake Waterpark owner Chris Steunenberg said these electronic signs put up in Chilliwack in the summer deterred visitors by implying parking lots were full

Elected park board officials have long complained about a lack of a source of revenue at their disposal to deal with issues for the leaseholders. But the move to increase parking rates yet again by the five-member park board – a board made up of residents of Cultus Lake none of whom live in Chilliwack – is said to be necessary to pay for services.

When asked about the move to raise parking rates in the budget, CLPB Chair Joe Lamb issued a statement that he couldn’t comment on what would or would not be included in the final draft of the budget, but he did address the fact that Cultus Lake Park is self-sustaining and they have no operational funding from other levels of government.

“We will continue to work closely with Electoral Area H, Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD) to look at actions that can be taken to deal with the fact that Cultus Lake Park is not only a popular destination for locals, including people from Chilliwack and the surrounding area, but for visitors from around the province, across Canada, from the U.S. and around the world.”

But parking isn’t the only thing getting under the skin of Cultus’s largest business owners. This summer, with collaboration from the Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD) and the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI), the Board put electronic signs in various locations in Chilliwack to warn people about parking at Cultus.

MOTI officials also took to Twitter to warn people of parking at Cultus.

• READ MORE: Cultus Lake taking steps to curb illegal parking

And while the goal of the electronic signs – which were at Keith Wilson Road, No. 3 Road, and at the Vedder Road exit to Highway one – were to keep Columbia Valley Highway clear for emergency vehicles, Steunenberg said it confused and deterred visitors, even when the parking lots weren’t full.

“We don’t need warning signs,” he said. “This is bad for business. People were calling, asking ‘are you open?’ Our attendance was down this year and we specifically identify highway signs for that demise in revenue.”

One sign he took photos of cycled between four messages: “Emerg Vehicles – Need Access – Limited Parking @ – Cultus Lake.”

Chris Steunenberg’s brother, Andrew Steunenberg who is the general manager of the waterpark, said the electronic signs caused false and misleading conclusions in the minds of the public, potentially even causing distracted driving about emergencies that didn’t exist.

“Highway traffic signs, are normally meant for emergencies and unusual circumstances,” Andrew said. “These signs were placed as permanent fixtures used every day of the entire operating season…. This deployment of highway emergency traffic signs was a reckless decision made with absolutely no consultation of our seasonal businesses, who are a major stakeholder in these decisions.”

The final decision on the budget and parking rates at Cultus Lake will be made in the new year.


@PeeJayAitch
paul.henderson@theprogress.com

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