VANCOUVER -- They’re back, and critics aren’t happy about it.

Free passes will be required at some B.C. parks again this summer as officials hope to limit the impact of crowds in some popular green spaces.

The pilot program was first introduced last summer in an effort to reduce the number of people visiting some parks during the COVID-19 pandemic. The initiative is launching again next week, but with a few changes. 

Starting June 22, passes will be required at:

  • Joffre Lakes;
  • Mount Robson (Berg Lake Trail);
  • Stawamus Chief (Chief Parks Backside Trail);
  • Garibaldi Park (at the trailheads at Diamond Head, Rubble Creek and Cheakamus); and
  • Golden Ears park.

"People in B.C. love the outdoors. For many of us, it’s an important part of who we are. The pilot program, as part of a comprehensive strategy, protects nature and improves managed access to parks and trails," said George Heyman, B.C.'s environment minister, in a news release.

"These changes will improve visitor planning and experience while keeping our parks spectacular for years to come."

Last year, passes were also required at Mount Seymour Park and Cypress Park, but those aren't included in this year's program.

As well, park visitors had to wake up early to book their park pass on the day of their visit last summer. But this year, the booking time will open at 7 a.m. the day before a visitor wants to go to the park. Anyone aged 18 and younger won't be required to have a pass when they're with a parent or guardian.

Visitors can also expect to see ambassadors welcoming people to the parks and giving information about responsible recreation.

"We support the effort BC Parks is making to have discover parks ambassadors in some of our most popular parks to greet people and talk about safe and responsible recreation," said Doug Pope, manager at North Shore Rescue.

"This is a welcome development to the day-pass program and ensures everyone can enjoy a safer experience. It’s important people plan ahead and are prepared before they venture into the outdoors.”

But not everyone is a fan of the park-pass program.

"We’re not happy with 'Day Pass 2.0.' We also don’t feel the public consultation process has been transparent,” said Chris Ludwig of the BC Mountaineering Club.

He says limiting access to parks is not the answer.

“Experienced users like me can use our four-wheel drive to access areas that are far flung but for the majority of people this impacts access and equity to the parks,” he said.

Ludwig says park use and park funding has gone up during the pandemic but no new trails have been built.

“We constantly encounter red tape when trying to build new trails,” he told CTV News.

However, the environment minister says park improvements are coming.

“We have a significant budget uplift over the next three years. I think part of that will be building new trails as well as maintaining existing trails and building new campsites," Heyman said.

At Golden Ears Park on Tuesday, visitors had mixed reviews of the park-pass program.

Jennifer de Guzman was visiting the park with her two young children for the first time but says the pass system will make it tougher.

“It’s going to be hard to get online and get a spot… It will take a lot more effort to get out of the house,” she said.

Cathy Chen likes the program.

“I’d prefer limited people. Especially in this time (of) COVID-19. People trying to have more distance between them,” Chen explained.

Earlier this spring, recreation groups spoke out against the program, saying they hoped it wouldn't return this year. The groups said the program missed the mark, left people out and even forced others to trails that they may not have been prepared for. 

"Literally locking people out of parks with gates is not something we thought was the smartest move," said Taryn Eyton, president of the Friends of Garibaldi Park Society, in April. "It made it more difficult to access parks in a time when our health authorities are telling us that going outside is good for our physical and mental health."

But the province says park rangers noticed there was less littering and no human-wildlife conflicts in Garibaldi Park last year under the day-pass program for the first time "in several years."

Park visitors can reserve their pass online. At some parks, morning and afternoon passes will be used. The morning pass allows for arrival before 1 p.m., while the afternoon is for arrival after 1 p.m. Departure times aren't restricted.

Day-use passes aren't required for anyone camping overnight, except at Stawamus Chief. At the other four parks, campground reservations or permits are required for those staying overnight.