Campers to see fee increase as B.C. government looks for more cash

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JUSTINE HUNTER  VICTORIA — The Globe and Mail

Internal B.C. government documents outline plans to close funding gap, with many campsites to cost an extra $2 a night this summer. (OceanFishing/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Campers planning to visit B.C. parks this summer can start booking reservations in a couple of weeks, but they can expect to pay more for less this season.

Hours after the provincial government announced it is preparing to open up its Discover Camping booking system for summer camping, NDP environment critic Spencer Chandra Herbert released internal government documents that chronicle the pressure on B.C. Parks to squeeze more cash from campers.

“The financial pressures … have, in recent years, forced B.C. Parks to shorten operating seasons, eliminate park ranger positions, reduce preventative maintenance and implement other program cuts,” states the memo, prepared for Environment Minister Mary Polak. “The organization cannot continue to operate at current funding levels without seriously encroaching on other budgets,” it warns.

The document, produced last November, outlines a plan to raise camping fees on a regular basis to close the fiscal gap. Many campsites will cost an additional $2 a night this summer.

Ms. Polak defended the fee hikes on Thursday as “quite nominal” and said she expects a record year for bookings when the reservation system opens for business at 9 a.m. on March 15.

“Those who are experienced campers in British Columbia I know will be sitting in front of their computers at 8:58 in the morning ready to get online,” she told reporters. “This is just as popular as a big band coming to Vancouver.”

Last year, more than 133,000 reservations were made through Discover Camping, an increase of nearly 10 per cent over the previous year. But the minister’s briefing document suggests the fee hikes could dampen enthusiasm – for a while.

“The proposed fee increases will likely be met by some adverse response from park visitors … Camping attendance may drop but should return to normal levels within one or two years.”

Mr. Chandra Herbert said the B.C. Liberal government is already making camping unaffordable for families and is now planning to impose additional fees for certain “park experiences.”

“B.C. families rely on our parks for affordable family vacations, yet this government continues to jack up camping fees again and again and again. You pay more for camping, you pay more for reservations, and this year they’re increasing those fees as well. But it’s not all,” he said. “They want to ding you if you go to a natural hot spring. They want to ding you if you go canoeing on particular lakes.”

Ms. Polak said she believes campers are willing to pay more so long as the fees collected are reinvested in parks. “When it comes to charging for additional experiences or when it comes to investing in our parks, people have told us consistently that if the monies are going into improving the park experience – and that is what happens – then they are pleased to be paying those nominal increases.”