Camping changes a good start to boosting accessibility: Weaver

Enforcement critical for next year’s provincial parks

Oak Bay-Gordon Head MLA Andrew Weaver

MLA Andrew Weaver is cautiously pleased with recent changes to camping reservation system in provincial parks.

Changes to the BC Parks Discover Camping Reservation Service for the 2017 season aim to improve fair access for everyone looking to book a campsite provincial parks.

“They listened and I’m pleased that they listened,” the Oak Bay-Gordon Head MLA said. “I don’t mind giving them credit for doing the right thing.”

For 2017, the ministry nixed the mid-March opening day for reservations and the three-month rolling reservation window will be extended. As of Jan. 2, reservations can be made four months in advance of an individual campground’s first reservable date.

Other changes include new measures to prevent the reselling of reservations, restrictions around altering arrival dates to prevent the practice of ‘overbooking’ where coveted reservations, including long-weekends, are unfairly secured, and implementing a pilot project in select parks to reduce the maximum length of stay to seven days during the peak camping season.

The changes are in response to a record-breaking camping season, where sites were booked far in advance and people felt left out. Others complained that people were snapping up campsites and re-selling reservations for profit. Forty-six such incidents were reported to B.C. Parks last year.

“We want to make sure the campsite reservation service is doing its job as effectively and efficiently as possible. We know British Columbians want a reservation system that is fair, and that they have just as good a chance of securing a campsite as the next person,” Mary Polak, Minister of Environment, said in a statement. “The changes we’re bringing in for 2017 address policies that are prone to abuse by a small number of people and contribute to positive camping experiences in our beautiful B.C. Parks.”

The government says it’s cracking down on reservation scalpers. Under the new regulations, when a campsite is reserved, guests will have to provide one or two permit holder names, and at least one permit holder will have to be on site, with identification, throughout the stay. Weaver was vocal in that as his key concern last May as the camping season amped up.

“It potentially led to like ticket scalping … that now has been closed down,” he said. Now a name is associated with the reservation and you can’t change that name later. “That’s a really important change.”

He’s also pleased with the clampdown on those who book two-weeks in advance, then cancel the first 10 days to score coveted long weekend as well as the staggered openings.

“You can’t have somebody, for example, buy up four or five in a row … a week here, a week there, at four campsites. You can’t do that all at once now because they stagger the opening of them,” Weaver said. “It’s giving British Columbians a slight edge on getting campgrounds and that’s good.”

He’s concerned now over a “lack of enforcement and compliance” when for example, if a park is not notified of a late arrival, a site should become available if it remains empty at 11 a.m. He also maintains the province needs to increase its inventory.

“We need more campgrounds to begin with because there is an increasing need,” he said “Affordability is a critical issue … holidaying close to home and camping is in many cases the only option. It’s becoming more of the norm as opposed to going to a resort.”

More than 185,000 reservations were made last summer, with close to three-quarters coming from B.C. residents. The next highest shares are from Alberta at 14 per cent, the U.S. at 3.6 per cent, the rest of Canada at 2.8 per cent, and all European countries combined are 6.6 per cent of the total.