At a press conference held Monday, Nov. 28 at Mount Seymour Provincial Park, Premier Christy gave the residents of B.C. an early Christmas present when she announced $23 million in funding for the creation of 1,900 new campsites over the next five years.
This includes 800 in provincial parks and 1,100 in more rugged Crown land locations, as well as an unspecified number of new rangers in parks across the province. The funding will be spread over five years, and is in addition to the $15 million announced for maintaining and refurbishing campsites and backcountry recreation areas.
Clark also announced a number of other changes to the parks system, including an unspecified lift to the park operating budget to help maintain the new campsites, $5 million toward a new BC Parks Foundation, which will allow private-sector donations to help raise capital, a loyalty card program with retail outlets to generate parks revenue and new licence plates that depict scenes from parks that are expected to generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in new revenue.
The Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island, the Okanagan and Kootenays will be the first priority locations.
“We will have a number of sites available this season…” says Environment Minister Mary Polak. “It’s a delicate balance for parks. For everyone who wants to camp in a park there’s somebody else who says we shouldn’t develop the park.”
B.C. currently has 10,700 front country park campsites (accessible by vehicle) and 2,000 back country (walk-in) sites. Statistically, the province’s most popular park campsites are at Cultus Lake south of Chilliwack, Golden Ears in Maple Ridge, E.C. Manning Park, Rathtrevor Beach near Parksville and Shuswap Lake Provincial Park.
The government also recently overhauled its online reservation system, after complaints that some campers were abusing loopholes to lock up the best sites before they ever went online to the general public. As part of those changes, some campgrounds will see maximum stays reduced from 14 days to seven this year.
In her statement, Polak indicated the government will also be seeking private sponsorship deals.
“It would be things like sometimes a company will sponsor the production of a map, maybe some interpretive signage, maybe a picnic table or gazebo, or maybe they just want to advertise on our website — our website is the most visited website in government,” she said.
In another statement earlier in November, the province announced it would eliminate opening-day reservations to avoid delays and crashes in the online Discover Camping booking system. Campers will now be able to book their campsite four months ahead of their desired camp date. The announcement followed criticism about the limited number of available campsites being snapped up when bookings opened and of scalpers reselling them for profit. Forty-six such incidents were reported to BC Parks last year.
Clark says the government “hopes the plan will help alleviate the frustrations felt by many who were unable to reserve a site last summer for their families.”
Legislative changes should indeed cut down on the practice, but a lack of campsites and the rising cost of camping will likely remain an issue for many families.
It should be noted BC’s parks generated an estimated $400 million to the gross domestic product of our province.
While $23 million spread over five years sounds pretty good, one must not forget there will be a provincial election in May, and who knows what will happen.
Pre-election promise or not, at this point it is still better than nothing and, the way I see it, 1,900 new campsites will go a long way to ease the ever-growing demand and more people will be able to go camping and spend time in the great outdoors. Having said that, however, I wouldn’t wait too long to reserve a site.