Critics of the 100 per cent reservation proposal say camping with families is often a spur-of-the-moment decision, or cannot be planned months in advance. (THE NEWS files)

‘Unhappy campers’ protest booking system

Golden Ears park going 100 per cent online reservation in 2019

The chances of getting first-come, first-serve camping have become more remote in Lower Mainland campgrounds, and may soon be completely eliminated from Maple Ridge’s most popular spot.

For the 2019 camping season, B.C. Parks plans to have Golden Ears Provincial Park be made 100 per cent online reservable, with no more drive-up bookings.

Over the past year, there were 350 reservable campsites at Golden Ears out of 409 in total, but soon the entire campsite will be reservations only.

Angela Dunne-Massey has started a petition to keep access open for camping without reservations, which she will present to B.C. Parks, local MLAs and others.

The petition is at Change.org and had more than 1,700 signatures after a week.

Angela, her husband Randy and good friend and camping partner Michael Babor are going to lobby government officials to get the ratio of drive-up sites closer to 50-50.

“You can call us unhappy campers,” said Babor.

They are part of a group of numerous Maple Ridge families who love RVing, and that they have a gem of a park virtually in their backyard. They camp there even in December. The drive there on a Monday morning at 5 a.m., two hours before the gate staff are on duty, to line up for a spot.

They love camping, especially in Golden Ears,.

“It’s a beautiful place. We go there all year long,” said Randy.

“We have a love for that park like no other,” agreed Babor. “For me, it’s because I grew up going there. It’s a lifetime of great memories.”

Angela said the reservation system has already taken over, with so few drive-up spots last summer it was impossible to get a site.

Booking in advance is also difficult, and she said family campers are competing with companies that are re-selling sites, and booking them by bulk. She points out that young people with no credit cards will not be able to book a site, and nor will seniors who lack the techical ability to navigate the online booking system.

Babor said he simply can’t book camping months in advance. He is a shift worker at Safeway, and doesn’t know his schedule more than three weeks ahead of time. His work schedule is also subject to change. So, he said B.C. Parks needs to consider how many other people are shift workers who do not benefit from a reservation system.

“I’m not looking to save the world here, but can’t we go back to 50-50 [reserveable],” he asks.

Randy said the reservation system might be bringing in revenue, but it is not creating more camping experiences – because sometimes the reserved sites are empty.

If the weather gets rainy, there will be frustrated drive-up campers, with loaded vehicles, trying to get into Golden Ears, while the fairweather campers with reserved sites are no-shows.

“You have all these reserved sites, but there is nobody in them,” he said. “Here, in our own backyard, we can’t go camping anymore.”

The comments on the petition page show frustration from people who used to enjoy camping, but find the reservation system problematic.

“I sorely miss our last-minute camping trips to Golden Ears,” wrote Colin Knight on the page. “Removing the last few FCFS spots is not acceptable. Tour companies and computer bots will take all the sites.”

First-come, first-serve is necessary for so many reasons, said Darshan Andrews. “Not everyone has the ability to schedule their camping trips and take time off work … months in advance. Reserve-only sites certainly make it nearly impossible for me to take my family camping.”

Fiona Schonewille wrote: “Allow locals to have access and deter international sites from taking over our parks.”

Dunne-Massey noted it is an important park for the Lower Mainland, given its size and proximity to the Metro Vancouver population, and she is advocating that first-come, first-serve levels be re-instated to 2017 summer levels.

David Karn of Environment Ministry said there is public demand for more campsite reservations.

“The number of reservable sites at any given campground or park is driven by consumer demand and in alignment with B.C. Parks’ mandate to manage the land sustainably,” he said. “The overwhelming public demand is for increased reservation opportunities. B.C. Parks adjusts reservable inventory on an annual basis in response to occupancy demand.”

He said Golden Ears is one of the busiest parks in the province.

Karn confirmed campsites at Golden Ears Provincial Park will be 100 per cent reservable during the peak season in 2019, which is typically from mid-May to Labour Day weekend.

“This change has been made gradually over the last three years in response to the increased demand for sites, as well as to respond to public concerns regarding the FCFS inventory management at Golden Ears.”

He noted campsites not reserved will still be available on a walk-up basis for one or two nights, as capacity allows, all season. All of Golden Ears campsites are also 100 per cent walk-up outside of peak season.

He noted B.C. Parks added an additional 431 campsites this year, with six created in Golden Ears for the 2018 camping season.

Karn said of the 10,700 campsites B.C. Parks manages, approximately 55 per cent are reservable and 45 per cent remain available on a walk-up basis.

B.C. Parks is working on a strategy to manage pressures in specific parks.

• To find the petition online, see the link above or go to change.org and search: “SAVE Golden Ears Provincial Park Camping – keep access open for FCFS (First Come First Serve). “

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