Summertime, and the camping is easy—and it’s getting easier by the day. In recognition of an aging homegrown population coupled with an increasing number of newly minted Canadians with no outdoor experience, this year B.C. Parks is bent on attracting more visitors to two Lower Mainland provincial campgrounds. Specifically on offer are sheltering roofs and soft beds.
In April, Sea to Sky Park Services, a Vancouver-based company contracted by B.C. Parks to administer 18 provincial campgrounds such as Alice Lake in Squamish, announced that two log cabins featured during the 2010 Winter Games had been relocated to Porteau Cove Provincial Park north of Horseshoe Bay. When reached at his office in Mount Seymour Provincial Park in North Vancouver, where his family has run snow-sports facilities since the 1990s, general manager Eddie Wood told the Georgia Straight that the Olympic cabins are a great way to introduce people to the outdoors and to provincial parks. “There are three things I like about the new Porteau Cove options: the proximity to Vancouver and Squamish; the ocean at your doorstep; plus, cabins give us an opportunity to attract more people to the park, a demographic who don’t have camping gear or families with aging parents who still want to come together in the outdoors.”
Wood pointed out that the cottages, which are already heavily booked, come fully equipped “with all the amenities of home”. Rates for the winterized cabins, which have a maximum occupancy of four, run well above the $30 cost of a vehicle-access campsite at Porteau Cove: $219 per night during summer months and $139 in the off-season.
In May, Wood announced a similar initiative at Chilliwack Lake Provincial Park, where this summer a nine-metre, four-person RV trailer rents for $125 per night, linen not included. In 2007, then–B.C. minister of parks Stan Hagen called for expanded choice of accommodation in a number of popular campgrounds. Until this year, aside from a call for tenders, there was little evidence of what the government had in mind. “We don’t want to take away from existing campsites,” Wood said, “especially as use over the past two years really picked up when fuel prices skyrocketed. We’re working with B.C. Parks to identify new areas of the parks for future sites or bringing in RVs at low season, such as May-June at Cultus Lake.”
Overall, Wood said, although camping got off to a slow start this spring, weekends were the exception. “Victoria Day was the strongest we’ve ever seen. Due to the weather, there had been a real downturn in day visits, but on Thursday [July 8] we had to close the gate at Alice Lake by early afternoon because of the volume. For that to happen midweek is almost unheard-of.”
Cabins and RV camping are one thing; overnighting in historic residences and locales offers an elevated experience infused with the spirit of the past. Such is the case at Fort St. James National Historic Site in B.C.’s Interior, where Parks Canada has just announced that for the first time visitors can spend a night in the fort’s restored 1880s log home this summer. Bring your jammies and the staff does the rest. Cost: $100 per person per night, dinner and breakfast included.
The incomparable reward of camping is the chance to share the outdoors with the sounds of birdcalls and rushing rivers as a full moon rises above a snowcapped peak. Such is the nature of another Interior site, the ’Ksan Campground in Hazelton, where Gitksan First Nations have lodged for millenniums. Beneath the weathered face of Mount Rocher DeBoule, or Stii Kyo Din, once stood an ancient city-state, Tam Lax Aamid, where several tribes lived harmoniously beside the Skeena River. A catastrophic series of events, including the massacre of warriors by supernatural one-horned goats, led to the abandonment of what may have been one of North America’s largest pre-contact societies.
’Ksan offers far more than a picture-perfect campground. The past blurs with the present at the adjacent historical village made up of five longhouses. Executive director Laurel Smith-Wilson explained that when opened in 1960, ’Ksan became the first aboriginal museum in Canada. “Our original structure, the Fireweed House, was moved here from historic downtown Hazelton. Despite ceremonies being outlawed for a time in the 20th century, our regalia and customs remain intact.”
Take a look for yourself. An abundance of food allowed the Gitksan, or People of the River of Mists, to camp here year-round. At the very least, treat yourself to a night too.
Unfortunately, travellers these days aren’t scrambling for space at ’Ksan—or elsewhere around the province, for that matter—which means bad news for Joss Penny, chairperson of the Camping and RVing B.C. Coalition. Established in 2008 to promote rural, nature-based tourism, the nine-member group represents more than 1,100 public and private campgrounds. “In a recession, tourism is the first to feel the pinch,” Penny told the Georgia Straight. “It’s tough out there right now.”
ACCESS: For reservations at Porteau Cove or Chilliwack Lake provincial parks, visit discovercamping.ca/. For Fort St. James National Historic Site, call 250-996-7191, ext 25. Camping details at ’Ksan are posted at www.gitanmaax.com/businesses/ksan-campground/. For maps and information on campgrounds throughout B.C., visit Camping and RVing B.C. Coalition’s Web site.