There has been an 80-per-cent increase in campsite reservations in the last five years, and BC Parks will be looking at expanding the number of campsites within provincial parks, said Environment Minister Mary Polak.
Asked whether Golden Ears Provincial Park would be a good candidate, she did not want to predict before the review is complete, and said developing parks can be a controversial undertaking.
“You also have people who do not want us to make further incursions into wild spaces,” she said, adding that usually campground development in parks encounters “very significant resistance.”
She noted some provincial parks offer no room to expand, but in larger parks cost should not be an issue.
“It’s relatively inexpensive if you have the land,” said Polak.
Stug Burgess, the operations manager for SSG Holdings that manages Golden Ears, said the last expansion at the park was 55 campsites in the North Beach campground in 1998. With pit toilets and a hand pump for water, he said the campground is “more primitive” than the other two campgrounds in the park, which combined offer another 354 sites.
On June 7 of this year, the first sunny day of the new summer, Golden Ears had its busiest day ever, with 3,432 vehicles coming in from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Burgess said the sites are 100 per cent full over summer weekends, but from Sunday to Thursday are at 70-75 per cent capacity during the camping season. For the entire year, the campgrounds operate at 18 per cent of capacity.
He said the government will have to analyze the economics of building more campsites to essentially serve weekends for about 10 weeks.
“If we had 800 campsites available at Golden Ears, they would be booked up all weekend and half empty through the week,” he predicted.
He said with 609 square kilometers, it would be easy to find a suitable place for a new campground or day use area.
“It’s a huge park. Only a very small part of it is easily accessible.”
In the immediate future, Polak’s ministry will focus on making the province’s existing 10,700 campsites more available.
BC Parks will make changes to its online reservation system. Polak wants it to suggest other parks when campers find the sites they want are full, to create more awareness of other parks.
She said Parks will also close loopholes people have found in the online reservation system that allow them to book weeks ahead.
Popular sites may also see reservations reduced from a maximum of two weeks to just one week – as has already been done in some parks.
“I’m more concerned with the perception that people have that campsites are being taken over by overseas visitors,” she said.
Polak said the parks system is still 75 per cent B.C. users and 15 per cent Albertans.
Tour operators can book sites on behalf of clients, but are not allowed to book sites “on spec” she added. Those bookings will be cancelled by BC Parks, and the operator could be barred, she said.
So far BC Parks has seen 11 reports of campground scalping. In some cases people were advertising on public sale websites, and agreed to take the ads down.