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Metro to weigh new paid services in regional parks

Survey found park users put high priority on one amenity: washrooms
Tynehead Regional Park in northeast Surrey is popular with dog walkers.

Metro Vancouver will soon consider business partnerships that would bring more commercial ventures into regional parks to offer pay-per-use enhanced services.

Ideas like zip lines, dog wash stations or water slides were bandied around last year but Metro parks committee chair Gayle Martin expects a staff report on the options will be out by June.

"We're looking at something that is probably going to be larger scale and a good potential revenue generator for our parks," the Langley City councillor said.

There are no concrete proposals yet but Martin expects one could come soon.

"I have been in touch with a company since last year and we're working through a process," Martin said.

She wouldn't divulge what type of venture the firm intends but added a broad call for bids may not be necessary if there's only one operator of that type in the Lower Mainland.

Martin stressed the region will entertain all proposals.

"Obviously if somebody out there has an idea they think would be a good enhanced service for our parks, we'd look at anything."

The aim is to offer park-goers more recreation or service options while simultaneously pulling in more income for the parks system.

Martin had previously highlighted Tynehead Regional Park in Surrey as one park that may mesh well with enhanced pay-to-play services.

Metro once considered but abandoned allowing a golf academy to set up at Tynehead.

Pay-per-use amenities now in Metro regional parks include the Brae Island campground, a concession stand at Boundary Bay Regional Park, and bike rentals at Colony Farm in Port Coquitlam.

Metro earns $2 million per year from its parks, but a good chunk of that comes from house rentals and movie shoots by the film industry.

Another site up for consideration is Aldergrove Lake Regional Park, where the popular swimming lake is being permanently closed due to more stringent health standards.

Martin said the idea of a water park to replace the lake now looks unlikely because of the limited water supply there.

Meanwhile, parks officials are pledging to deliver some free relief for park users.

Portable washrooms will be set up in some parks and more permanent ones will be built over the longer term.

They'll also add washroom locations to the mapping function on the Metro Parks smartphone app launched last year.

More biffies that are easier to find were among the demands of users Metro surveyed for a study of park opportunities tabled this week.

"A lot of people said washroom facilities are important to them," Martin said. "Especially those with young children – you never get out without them having to go."

The survey also found plenty of confusion about what parks are run by the region versus local cities.

Pacific Spirit Regional Park around UBC is the best-known regional park but one in four people surveyed couldn't name one.

Top activities in regional parks are walking, picnicking, going to the beach or swimming, attending outdoor events and festivals and cycling on level, groomed trails.

Metro's Regional Outdoor Recreation Opportunities study found activities with strong growth potential include outdoor events and festivals, cycling, recreational boating and wildlife or bird watching.

It also forecasts growing demand in the Fraser Valley Regional District for off-road motorized recreation, motor boating, fishing and camping.

Park users are most likely to be employed, Canadian-born, higher-income or families with children.

"Immigrants from China and South Asia are among those less likely to use parks and open space," the report said. "The South Asian community does, however, have an interest in picnicking and organized field sports."