Letter: Camping user fees may be be the answer

Dear Editor,


Thank you for inviting us to participate in a discussion about the mess left at Lake Koocanusa.  (Page A6, “Aftermath of the weekend”)  The photographs were rather vivid, as was the writing in the article.  I would propose some simple solutions, some of which are sure to be unpopular, but would solve a number of problems.

The first is your invitation itself, to talk about the situation.  The second would be a substantial user fee.  Anyone who can afford to drive today can afford to pay them.  The amount of empty beer boxes is indicative of people with lots of money to throw around, along with the garbage.  The fees would be used to hire local people who would have the job of collecting the fees and politely inviting people to use appropriate trash and recycling receptacles.  They would keep emptying said receptacles and would also tidy up after the weekends, as well as providing fire watches and some sober eyes directed toward safety, of the park users and the park itself.  (Wild partying of the type you have documented is a serious fire hazard.)

I have an illustration.  My wife home schooled our two sons (I helped a bit I think) and some opportunities came together a few years ago to take a year off and drive around a fair part of North America.  (In 2007-2008, using a truck and 5th wheel.)  Starting near Victoria, where we used to live, we drove down to California, taking some courses of interest there, then went across to Texas, briefly walking into Mexico, around the Gulf to Miami, Florida, up the East Coast to Maine, back into Canada and further East to Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Turning towards home, we drove South of the Great Lakes to get to Holland, Michigan in time for Mother’s Day and a major Dutch Festival (my wife is Dutch, so this was a highlight) then through Chicago and back up to Canada at Winnipeg.  Heading West, we went as far North as Athabasca to visit the university in which my sons were registered, then back into BC, ten months after we began.

Never in all of this time, and over 24,000 miles on the odometer, did we see any mess left in a campground.  Why do we think this was so?  You might remember that 2008 was a very bad year for the American economy, so it is not that they had cash or bottles to throw around.  Some areas we saw, especially in the South, were very poor.  Lots of RV parks there were also trailer parks, with units left in one spot so long that bushes grew up around them.  Some people thought we were fantastically wealthy that we had enough gas money to keep moving.  (On the other hand, a few places would not let us in because we had a trailer and were therefore trash.  Some RV parks allowed Class A Motorhomes only.  Others did not allow children.)

We also stayed in many state parks and national ones.  We often stayed for free, and always asked permission, on private property like church or museum parking lots.  A Black History Museum even sent staff out to help us park our rig for the evening.  Churches invited us to stay extra time.  We were often invited for lunch.

Why did we never see any garbage?  Because all of this property belonged to somebody, and someone was directly responsible to care for it.  As you might know, churches depend heavily on volunteers, and most we visited would not have had paid maintenance staff.  Some had no paid staff of any sort, but all of them had people who actively cared.  (Some of the state and national parks in the US had guards with guns, so littering was unlikely to go through anyone’s mind!)

I note that your article mentions Albertans.  It is pretty easy to recognize their plates, so we are not being “racist” to suggest that the lots are full of their vehicles.  How do I respond to them?

We chose Cranbrook after a long search (a long story) and one of the features we sought for a new home town was a ski hill.  If you spend any time in the parking lot there, you will see that it too is full of Alberta vehicles.  Since my family sometimes skis at different speeds, and my sons had ski patrol duties, I often go in the singles line and chat with the other skiers.  If they are from Alberta, and they usually are, I always thank them for coming.  They can tell by my thrift store clothes that I do not work for RCR, and ask me why I am so grateful.  I answer, “Because otherwise we would be walking up the hill!”  (I understand that there is no way that the chairlifts could operate from the revenue from us few local people.)

Pretty well every Albertan is enthusiastically grateful for my gratitude, which makes a nicer day for all of us, and it is simply the truth that a great deal of the local economy here in the East Kootenays depends upon Alberta.  Supporting the local economy means being engaged in theirs.

Therefore, I conclude that the simplest, fairest solutions are to charge a responsible user fee, hire local people with it, and thank all the Albertans for bringing their business here.  (Perhaps they could take home some of their garbage!)

Thank you again for your article, and for the invitation to participate in finding a positive solution.


Peace be with you,

~Alan MacBean

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