B.C. officials scrutinize Peace Arch Park, days before couples brave snow for Valentine’s Day

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The U.S. side of Peace Arch Park has remained open during the pandemic, becoming a focal point for frequent meet-ups between U.S. and Canadian residents. With Canadian case rates significantly lower than the U.S., B.C. officials questioned the loophole’s logic that allows for these gatherings just days before Valentine’s Day.

In a February 10 letter written to B.C. premier John Horgan, B.C. liberal MLAs Trevor Halford (Surrey-White Rock) and Stephanie Cadieux (South Surrey) called on Horgan to take action against the park meetings.

“While we appreciate the desire or families to reunite – it must be done through the proper channels and following all health guidelines, not a loophole no one wants to take responsibility for,” the letter states.

The MLAs wrote that they hear complaints from residents who don’t feel safe with the number of people meeting. In the wake of the more contagious Covid-19 variant, they asked Horgan to put pressure on Washington governor Jay Inslee to close the park until the border reopens to non-essential travel.

But in a news conference later that day, Horgan said the park is not regulated by Washington state or B.C. He also said he hasn’t discussed the cross-border meetings with Inslee, while other topics like Point Roberts have come up.

“If we see consistent concerns about Peace Arch Park, I’ll certainly raise that with the federal government and they can take action with their counterparts in Washington, D.C.,” Horgan said. “I’m hopeful that those people who are coming together to see loved ones in that international space are doing so safely.”

The B.C. side closed last summer but the U.S. side has been open since May for people to meet family and friends in the international boundary, with weekends gathering hundreds of people.

The park is a neutral zone for Canadians to cross into because of a loophole in the 1814 Treaty of Ghent that does not allow either the U.S. or Canada to build a barrier within 10 feet of the border.

As temperatures dropped in the fall, concern arose from people meeting in tents, which Washington State Parks and Recreation data showed could number 70 tents per day on the weekends but have decreased with the recent rain.

Although tents are normally only allowed at campgrounds in state parks, there is no law that says tents cannot be used in a day-use area. Park ranger Rickey Blank said the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission didn’t allow tents at first but began permitting them during the summer, while restricting overnight camping and only allowing structures on the east side of the park.

Valentine’s Day at the snowy park drew in over 60 tents in Sunday’s sub-freezing temperatures, Blank said. People took to the park’s hill for sledding and one cross-border couple got engaged.

Fifty tents dotted the park Saturday and at least 24 cross-border groups continued to meet in the snow on Monday, he reported.

“It was really busy with the snow and everything,” Blank said. “It was pretty amazing.”

In response to criticisms across the border, Blank said the park operates on the governor’s Roadmap to Recovery plan and he isn’t aware of any Covid-19 transmission associated with the park – something he has told to political aides who have visited his office.

Weddings in the park have decreased to about a dozen per month this winter.

Garbage collected over the weekends shows the impact of visitors – on average 10 cubic yards are being collected per week while 3 cubic yards collected in a week would be considered a lot in 2019, Blank said.

Blank previously said the majority of people who use the park to meet loved ones consider it a blessing.

“We want everybody to be safe, and we want to remind folks this is a family day-use park,” Blank said. “Be respectful of others and keep your social distancing.”

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