Playing cards at Gold Creek Campsite: (clockwise from left) Connor Martin

Playing cards at Gold Creek Campsite: (clockwise from left) Connor Martin

Campsites all booked up

Campers lining up to get cancellations at Golden Ears park.

On Wednesday, before the busiest camping weekend of the year – Canada Day – sites were already sold out at Golden Ears Provincial Park. But Eric Goyette was ready to sleep in his car at the ticket booth for a chance that a reservation would be cancelled.

He was put on a waiting list Wednesday. The Coquitlam man’s plan was to be in the park, and be first in line for the waiting list Thursday morning.

“You need to get a site for one night to be in the campground, to hope to have a chance to get a site for the weekend,” he explained.

Those driving to the park Thursday would already be too far down the waiting list, and not get a chance at a weekend of camping, he was told.

Such is the state of camping in B.C., where there are more people who want to enjoy the great outdoors than provincial parks can accommodate.

“This is the worst I’ve ever seen it. I’ve always came up on a Wednesday morning to get a site, but it’s just getting too busy,” Goyette said.

He was disappointed at not getting a site right away, but was willing to sleep in his car to have a high place in line at the ticket booth the next day.

“You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do for a bit of fun.”

Reserving a site online is the key, but the Discover Camping reservation system was down when Sandy Gilmore tried to use it. She didn’t know what was going on, but B.C. Parks reported the system wasn’t working when it opened in March.

“I tried the reservation system when it first came out, but I guess it crashed. When I tried again, it was too late,” Gilmore said. “I’ve heard lots of complaints about it.”

She is retired and on Tuesday afternoon rolled into a first-come, first-served site at Gold Creek Campground in Golden Ears. Stretched out on a lawn chair, she said there were “disposable tents” pitched throughout the area, and that “anyone just getting here is not getting in.”

One family at Gold Creek had the online reservation system down pat – having booked eight sites beside each other for extended family.

Jackie Prince of White Rock said she had three generations of family arriving from Nimpo Lake, Kelowna and the Lower Mainland. They didn’t want to leave anything to chance.

“We booked as soon as the reservations opened, and we had our sites mapped out,” said Prince.

They have camped at Golden Ears during the July 1 weekend every year for nine years, knew exactly which sites they wanted, and were up early on the first available booking day and logged onto the parks site at 7 a.m.

They also booked a week ahead of their arrival date, then later changed the arrival date to the one they wanted – the coveted Canada Day long weekend. It’s allowed by the system, and it’s a tactic savvy campers take advantage of.

The majority of campers believe they can only book three months in advance, but the Princes were not online at the same time as a million other would-be campers in a virtual scramble for bookings.

For a reservation change fee of $6 per site, they exploited the system and got exactly what they wanted.

“We got in, so we’re happy, but there are definitely loopholes,” said Prince.

“You have to know the tricks, or you would never get the sites,” said her husband, Rob Prince.

Stacey and Sharon Lang drove from Revelstoke in their RV, arriving on Tuesday and finding a spot in Alouette Campground. They watched as the first-come, first-serve sites filled up. That first night, though, they almost had their corner of the campground to themselves.

“There are lots of tents with nobody there, which is kind of disheartening,” said Stacey.

“What if someone just wanted to camp for two nights during the week? It’s the summer, school is out now.”

Sharon said B.C. Parks needs to look at its policies, with an eye to fairness and more access.

“They have too many reserve sites, and a two-week stay. They should have a one-week maximum stay, so that everyone can have a turn,” she said.

B.C. Parks is going to be reviewing its reservation system, and spokesperson David Karn acknowledged there are loopholes in the system.

“We’re working to close a lot of those.”

But he said there will always be competition for sites in Golden Ears, one of the province’s busiest parks.

“It’s in the bedroom of the Lower Mainland, and there’s extreme demand for it on a long weekend.”

The demand has created a market for selling reservations, much like ticket scalpers.

Karn said the practice is rare, and contrary to a provincial policy prohibiting reservation transfers.

“In the last five years, less than a dozen incidents of people trying to resell their reservations via social media has come to B.C. Parks’ attention,” he said. “We have not received any verified reports to date that people are trying to resell their reservations at the side of the road.”

There have been 115,000 reservations made so far this year across the province – a 10 per cent increase over last year. The majority, 73 per cent, come from  B.C. residents, while 6.6 per cent are from overseas and 3.6 per cent from the U.S.