When Kris Dougherty started a Facebook group in 2017 for people who enjoy camping in Ontario provincial parks, there were only 100 members. Today, there are more than 56,000. Many joined throughout the pandemic, when camping become a popular choice for people eager to get out of the house.
“It’s just been an insane boom, and I’m wondering if that camping boom is going to take a bit of a break,” says Mr. Dougherty, a 40-year-old car salesperson in Sarnia, Ont.
So far, there is no sign of a return to pre-pandemic levels. Faced with huge numbers of people hoping to camp at Ontario’s provincial parks – there were about 12 million visits last year, up from about 10 million in 2019 – Ontario Parks has cut the maximum number of nights that can be booked at campsites from 23 to 14 at 60 parks.
At the most popular parks – Algonquin, Bon Echo, Killbear, Pinery and Sandbanks – the maximum length of stay has been reduced to seven nights. Campers are divided over the changes, but Ontario Parks says they will help ensure more people who want to camp are able to do so.
“We want to make sure that as many Ontarians as possible can come and enjoy our parks and especially our most popular parks,” says Zachary Tucker, an Ontario Parks spokesperson. “There’s so many people who want to come and visit. And so by reducing the maximum length of stay at these parks, we’re allowing more and more visitors to come.”
The new limits only apply to trips booked between July 1 and the Saturday of Labour Day weekend. Outside of those dates, stays of up to 23 nights can still be booked. The rules for backcountry sites and roofed accommodations remained unchanged.
Mr. Dougherty says the new rules have mostly ruffled the feathers of retirees and a small group of people who are accustomed to parking a trailer on a site for the full 23 nights.
“It’s a select few of the majority of the people that would be affected by this change. I don’t know that there is really a big argument for being upset with this new rule,” he says.
Sue Kaakee, an administrator for a Facebook group dedicated to camping in Algonquin Park, estimates that about 25 per cent of the group’s more than 90,000 members object to the new rules.
For those people who do wish to spend more time camping, Ms. Kaakee hopes the new rules prompt them to discover other parks, perhaps booking a seven-day stretch at Algonquin and another two weeks somewhere else, or perhaps visiting a park not covered by the new rules.
“Go to a less popular park. Maybe that’s the one you’ll fall in love with,” says Ms. Kaakee, a 66-year-old retiree who lives just north of Bancroft, Ont. “The bottom line is be fair, be flexible.”
Some campers hope that the new rules will help close a loophole in the booking system that has been a source of frustration among would-be campers and outfitters for years.
The booking system allows sites to be booked five months from the start of a trip. Some people will book 23 nights, even though they only intend to stay for the last week or so, thereby essentially getting ahead of the line by a couple of weeks. Once they’ve booked their site, they’ll eventually cancel the first couple of weeks, which they never intended on using.
The rules don’t eliminate that loophole, but they shrink it.
“It’s harder to exploit and it gives more people an opportunity to get up there,” Ms. Kaakee says.
Although the loophole is an open secret among campers, and a source of much animosity, it is not as widespread a practice as some might believe, according to Ontario Parks.
The organization says it has investigated reports of overbooking and determined that it accounts for less than half a per cent of all reservations.
Last summer, Ontario Parks processed about 55,000 cancellations. That may be a relatively small number, but it is still a bane for anyone desperate to book a site.
Regardless, with the increasing number of people who want to camp, it’s hard to see objections to the new rules as anything other than selfish, Ms. Kaakee says.
“Can you not look at the families bringing up kids now? Do you not think that they want to have the memories that you had when you were a kid?”
Source : The Globe and Mail