The Maple Ridge campers who have been lobbying for more drive-up camping opportunities at Golden Ears Provincial Park say the province is going through a flawed public consultation process.
The park’s campsites were going to be 100 per cent reserved online in 2019, until Angela Massey headed a group which opposed the change. They collected more than 9,000 names on a petition calling for a return to 50-50 reservations online and first-come, first-serve. There are some 8,600 names on her online petition, and she has collected more on paper.
The B.C. government agreed to keep 15 per cent of the sites in the park for drive-up campers this summer, and committed to a public consultation process.
But Massey fears the end of first-come, first-served camping could arrive as soon as next camping season.
Massey said the consultation is flawed – parks staff will ask campers in Golden Ears, which will mainly include people who are used to navigating the reservation system.
“I want to see a true representation of B.C. residents,” she said, noting her small group found it easy to get 9,000 names on a petition. “I can’t fathom how this is public consultation.”
“How does that capture the voice of 9,000 people who said they want to drive in?”
She said surveys could be conducted online, or via booths at public events such as fairs and festivals. She noted TransLink and local governments go out of their way to get public opinion before major initiatives.
Massey has had meetings with BC Parks officials, and correspondence with Jennie Aikman, regional director for the South Coast Region. Aikman’s letters say BC Parks will have student rangers gather feedback from those with reservations, those in drive up camping spots and those at the gatehouse who cannot get a site.
“We plan to gather an even number of surveys from each group in order to ensure we get balanced perspectives,” she wrote to Massey. “The questions we plan to ask vary by user group since their perspectives differ, however they generally include questions about booking preferences, frequency of visits to Golden Ears and perspectives on BC Parks’ approach to first-come first-served and reservations.”
She said campsite demand has made a first-come, first-served-based system unworkable in the busier parks.
“While we appreciate that you – and the others who have signed on to your petition – may wish to have more unplanned access to Golden Ears, the demographics and demand for camping in the Lower Mainland have changed, and no longer support this. For high demand campgrounds such as those in Golden Ears Park, we must work in response to the broader needs and demands, and we cannot focus on the desires of specific user groups,” wrote Aikman.
Massey is part of a large group of friends from Maple Ridge who have used the park regularly, but are frustrated by the online booking system – having to plan trips four months in advance, and compete with people who have found ways to “game” the system.
Aikman declined to be interviewed, and referred questions to Environment Canada media relations staff.
According to a BC Parks spokesperson, a decision has not been made regarding reservations for the 2020 camping season at Golden Ears.
“We are still investigating the feasibility of installing an internet connection at the gatehouse of Golden Ears in order to provide real-time access to sites online,” he said.
“The new Discover Camping system will also be in place this winter and will be in effect for the 2020 season. New services, including reservation availability notifications and real-time online access to reservable/FCFS inventory will be a part of the upcoming new system.
He said BC Parks is undertaking a survey of park campers to assess their campsite booking experiences and preferences and will be considering other opportunities for input.
“We are aware of the Golden Ears petition, and have made the decision to hold reservable inventory at 85 per cent for this season based on the public feedback.”