The province of British Columbia is closing its portion of Peace Arch Park on the U.S.-Canada border, saying a "significant" increase in the number of visitors over the last month has created public safety concerns.
The park has been a loophole for loved ones and families separated since the international border closed, providing a mutual cross-country meeting point between Surrey, B.C., and Blaine, Wash.
The park straddles the 49th parallel and is a space shared by both Canada and the United States, where it is known as Peace Arch Historical State Park.
B.C. Parks owns the northern half, while Washington State Parks owns the southern half. The U.S. portion of the park is still open for day use, according to the Washington State Parks website.
Entrances are patrolled from both sides of the border and there can be serious consequences for those who leave the park on the wrong side, but otherwise, visitors are free to spend time together as they please. Loved ones have used the space for family reunions, long-awaited hugs and intimate weddings.
WATCH | 'A lot of the couples here call it Disneyland,' one park visitor said earlier this month:
The park closure begins at 8 p.m. PT on Thursday and will be in effect until further notice.
An 'oasis' for cross-border couple
Ryan Hamilton of Bellingham said for him and his new wife, Savannah Koop of Abbotsford, the park has been an "oasis" in recent months.
The border closures have kept them apart and even led to the cancellation of their wedding, originally planned for May 8.
On June 7, they were able to tie the knot — at the park.
"I like to call it the happiest place on earth," Hamilton said in an interview with B.C. Today host Michelle Eliot.
Hamilton said he sees the park constantly packed with people reuniting. He said a friend flew in from the U.S. Midwest to come to the park and he knows of others who are driving across Canada and the U.S. to get there.
Hamilton said he is disappointed by the news that B.C. is closing its side.
Attendance doubled, province says
Peace Arch park reopened to the public on May 14, after B.C. closed all of its provincial parks in early April.
Since then, the province said Thursday, parking lots and local access roads have been "overwhelmed with nearly twice the number of vehicles compared to peak days in the summer season."
"Attendance has doubled over the same period compared to last year," a statement read.
The province said it tried to deter crowds by increasing enforcement patrols, posting signage, reducing park hours and installing a permanent gate at the park entrance, but the closure has become necessary to address public safety and traffic concerns.
As of June 8, immediate family members of Canadian citizens and permanent residents can cross the border from the U.S. into Canada to stay with family, after the federal government announced an exemption to the border closure. Those coming to Canada cannot have symptoms of COVID-19 and must self-isolate for 14 days after their arrival.
With files from B.C. Today
Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca