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Major Vancouver Island park to limit horse use

British Columbia’s oldest and one of its largest provincial parks will now require permits for visitors to use horses, and only on its old road beds.

The province’s environment ministry on Wednesday ruled that applications for possible horse use in Strathcona Provincial Park on Vancouver Island will be “restricted to a very small portion” of the park.

To minimize any potential environmental impacts, applications will only be considered for horse use on old road beds and their associated corridors, Environment Minister Barry Penner said in a release.

If all such road beds were to be used for horse trails, the horse trails would occupy about 20 acres, less than 0.004 per cent of a park that’s over 652,000 acres in size, the province said..

The province said its decision follows “extensive” public and stakeholder consultations and a review of the park’s “Master Plan,” drafted in 1993 and amended in 2001. First Nations, environmental groups, local governments, stakeholder organizations and the general public were consulted, the province said.

Horse use was addressed both in the plan and its later amendments, the province noted, but “neither plan was entirely clear about exactly where horse use would or would not be permitted.”

Now, however, the province said its decision Wednesday also confirms that the “vast majority” of Strathcona Provincial Park will remain “dedicated to wilderness and travel on foot, as envisioned in the previous Master Plans.”

The latest revisions to the park’s Master Plan will require individuals or organizations to apply for and receive a park use permit before using horses in Strathcona Park, the province said.

“Only permit applications pertaining to old road beds and their associated corridors will be considered,” the province said, “and such applications would have to be consistent with the Master Plan direction” and “meet or exceed expectations of B.C. Parks for minimizing impacts to the environment.”

Accessed mainly from the communities of Campbell River and the Comox Valley, Strathcona Provincial Park is the largest provincial park on Vancouver Island and is B.C.’s oldest park, designated in 1911.

Within the park, Buttle Lake and Forbidden Plateau are developed for visitors — and Mount Washington Alpine Resort is the park’s adjacent neighbour — but the majority of the park is “largely undeveloped,” the province said.

Three roadless tracts, Big Den, Central Strathcona and Comox Glacier, are designated nature conservancy areas, covering a combined 300,000 acres “uninfluenced by human activity.”

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