VANCOUVER -- A large parcel of land that was originally designated for rural housing has now been acquired by Metro Vancouver, bringing the region one step closer to creating a large, contiguous park, officials announced Monday.

The 56-hectare property, which is located north of the Codd Wetland Ecological Conservancy Area in Pitt Meadows, was purchased last year for $7.3 million.

"The task force is to bring new land parcels into the fold to protect and connect these lands along the North Alouette floodplain," said John McEwen, chair of the Metro Vancouver Regional Parks Committee.

Metro Vancouver's long-term vision is to create a regional park that shares borders with the Codd Wetland, Blaney Bog Regional Park Reserve and the North Alouette Greenway.

"This area, when possibly developing it fully, could rival that of Stanley Park," McEwan said.

Metro Vancouver said its parks are seeing a record number of visitors these past several months because of the pandemic.

"We used to get 11 to 12 million people a year; we already received over 14 million people this year and the year isn't even over," said Sav Dhaliwal, chair of the Metro Vancouver Board of Directors.

He said there has been a 37 per cent increase so far, compared to last year, adding this further underscores the need to expand the park system.

The Codd Wetland Ecological Conservancy Area is home to a variety of animals that are no longer found in developed areas in the region, according to Metro Vancouver.

Since the area was acquired in 2004, there's been no public access to protect the ecosystems and wildlife.

However, the public will soon have some access to the wetland on the newly acquired land.

"Our job is to protect all ecosystem areas, but there's also passive enjoyment for the public to see what really exists," said Dhaliwal. "For Codd Wetland, there would be very limited places to come and that plan is being developed."

He hinted it could be like Burns Bog in Delta, where the public is able to access some sections, but the ecologically sensitive areas are closed to the public.

Mayor Bill Dingwall said his city already boasts many trails and natural beauty, and the new park will bring more people from the region to his city.

"The 56 hectares added to the Codd Wetlands will protect diverse habitats and ensure residents can enjoy for many, many years to come," Dingwall said. "Where we can get citizens through the Metro area to be able to come and enjoy this beautiful place, these beautiful vistas that surround us here."

John Richardson, a UBC professor of forests and conservation sciences, said Metro Vancouver is taking the right approach by allowing the public to enjoy the land.

“If people are asked for their tax dollars to go into buying up land. If they see the value in it beyond just the conservation value, they will probably be more inclined to support that kind of activity,” Richardson told CTV News. “So, there are benefits to allowing public access to these areas. The downsides are, of course, if you don’t manage them correctly, they could also damage some of the sensitive areas.”

Metro Vancouver said members are developing a plan that strikes a balance between conservation and public access. A timeline has not been provided.