Stu Burgess is up with the sun during these hot summer months, and when most of the campers in Golden Ears Provincial Park are still asleep in their tents, he’s already making his morning rounds.
This year marks Burgess’s 18th season as the park’s operations manager, a job that he says has been a dream come true.
“You’d have to pay me an awful lot to do something else,” he says.
“This job is so rewarding.”
Golden Ears is the busiest provincial park in B.C., with more than 5,000 visitors every day at the height of the hot summer months.
With 409 campsites spread over three campgrounds, the park has also the largest campground complex in the province.
While the park covers more than 62,000 hectares stretching north all the way to where it borders Garibaldi Provincial Park, 30 kilometres east of Squamish, the vast majority of Golden Ears is rugged wilderness, with no trails, and is rarely visited.
“Most of what we do is in the southern portion of the park,” says Burgess.
In the summer months, Burgess has 35 to 40 staff working under him. In the winter, that number dwindles to three or four.
For the most part, the campers who come to Golden Ears are respectful, says Burgess. Those who aren’t, are not welcome.
“We play baseball with them: three strikes and you’re out,” he says.
When the weather is nice, it’s not uncommon for campers to line up overnight in the hopes of snagging a last-minute campsite. But the only way to ensure a spot, says Burgess, is to reserve one week in advance, or show up a week early and stake out a site.
In the campsite office, reservations are marked with colored tags, each hanging on a nail corresponding to one of the park’s 409 campsites.
“It’s a completely manual operation,” says Burgess.
There’s no telephone or cellphone service in the southern portion of the park. “We’re cash-only up here,” he says.
“We’ve had to send a lot of disappointed people back to town.”
The park has expanded its facilities in recent years, with a new $1-million clean water system, a sewage treatment facility, new park benches, and a new hydro connection to supply the southern portion of the park with power.
“The noisy diesel generators are gone,” says Burgess.
“There’s no noise, no emissions, and that’s great for our campers.”
The twin peaks of Mount Blanshard – the Golden Ears themselves – became part of Garibaldi Provincial Park in 1927.
The Alouette Lake area was the site of an extensive logging operation until a forest fire swept through the area in 1931.
As the second-generation forest rose from the ashes, the park was expanded, and became Golden Ears Provincial Park in 1967.
While the North Shore mountains often prove difficult, if not deadly, for tourists who underestimate the conditions, in Golden Ears Provincial Park, it’s the locals who get into trouble.
“A lot of people aren’t prepared,” says Burgess. “You get off the trail and you’re in dangerous territory.”
Burgess says hikers attempting to scale Golden Ears should always be prepared to spend the night. While an experienced hiker might take six hours to get to the top, novices will take considerably longer.
“We get a lot of calls for twisted ankles, but thankfully we don’t have the problems the North Shore has,” says Burgess.
“We only have five or six search and rescue situations in the park per year.”
For a day trip, Burgess recommends the Alouette Mountain trail, which a novice hiker can do in about 10 hours.