Wreck beach is more popular than ever. But it's leading to increased emergencies and safety concerns

Metro Vancouver says Wreck Beach's popularity has led to increased emergencies and public safety incidents. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
Metro Vancouver says Wreck Beach's popularity has led to increased emergencies and public safety incidents. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

Vancouver's Wreck Beach has long been a favourite hangout for locals and tourists alike.

Stretching along seven kilometres of beachfront on the west coast of the Point Grey peninsula, near the University of British Columbia, the isolated beach is accessible only by a 500-step forest trail. It's also famous as the region's most popular clothing-optional waterfront.

But staff at Metro Vancouver say its ballooning popularity over the past few years is leading to increased emergencies and public safety incidents that are stretching resources thin.

"The spike in the number of users and the number of incidents the last few years … has been quite dramatic, so it's been a challenge," said Paul Brar, division manager for Metro Vancouver Regional Parks' West Area.

On Wednesday, staff will present a report to Metro Vancouver's Regional Parks Committee outlining concerns and solutions for the 2023 season, including more policing support.

According to staff, more than 838,000 people visited Wreck Beach last year — a jump of 44 per cent compared to five years ago.

Hundreds of emergency calls

Metro Vancouver staff said emergency responders have been dealing with a growing number of incidents, including wildfires, overdoses and conflict between visitors.

Over the past five years, the report said there have been 210 emergency calls for service to the University RCMP detachment, 170 calls to B.C. Emergency Health Services, 130 calls to Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services and 79 calls to the Canadian Coast Guard.

Wreck Beach's isolation, while adding to its allure, creates major issues for emergency responders.

"Given the complexity of how busy that site can be and the challenges of getting up and down those stairs, that's what's creating some of the challenges we've been looking at," said Brar.

In medical emergencies, Brar said responders will often contact the Canadian Coast Guard, which will transport patients by hovercraft to Spanish Banks. However, the coast guard isn't always available, which leaves emergency responders with the difficult task of carrying a patient on a stretcher up 500 stairs through a forest.

Benoit Ferradini/Radio Canada
Benoit Ferradini/Radio Canada

Call for increased policing

In the report, staff highlighted several changes to Wreck Beach to accommodate the growing numbers of visitors and to better respond to emergencies.

In 2022, the University RCMP detachment said it wasn't able to patrol the beach due to limited resources.

"The noticeable absence of a regular police presence posed challenges in responding to incidents involving drugs and alcohol and in closing the beach at night," according to the report.

Metro Vancouver said it is working with the RCMP and has requested additional support for 2023.

During the winter, storms wash debris and large logs onto the beach. Metro Vancouver staff have cleaned up the beach and logs have been re-aligned to create more open space for both the public and emergency responders.

A storage facility has been built on the beach where emergency responders will be able to store equipment. BCEHS will provide naloxone kits and train Wreck Beach vendors on how to use them in case of an overdose.

A security light has been installed at one of the trailheads to help beachgoers once the sun sets. And signs have been installed around Wreck Beach to communicate rules.

Staff will also sweep the beach nightly to ensure there are no campfires and will remove extra beach logs that are used for firewood to avoid potential wildfires.