B.C. is home to a dozen “premier” provincial family campgrounds.
A quarter of them are within a three-hour drive from each other, right here on Vancouver Island.
The new B.C. Parks fee schedule for 2016 was released last week. It shows three Island campgrounds on an exclusive list of the most expensive camping stays in the province.
Rathtrevor Beach in Parksville, Gordon Bay on Cowichan Lake and Goldstream just north of Victoria each charge a B.C. provincial park high of $35 per party per night. Miracle Beach, partway between Comox and Campbell River, just missed the cut at $33.
“The three parks mentioned are amongst the most developed and popular in the system,” Ministry of Environment officials said in an emailed statement. “Their fees are in line with other top-tier flagship parks.”
The ministry states 21 million B.C. park visits — including day trips — per year create an increased demand for services and the fees help sustain the expected visitor experience. A $60 million investment in improvements during the past five years was also pointed to as a factor.
“The appeal of British Columbia’s treasured parks is reflected in the growing number of visitors who come from around the province, and the world, to enjoy them,” Minister Mary Polak said. “We are ensuring B.C .Parks continue to offer a high level of service, as well as enhanced facilities, for the public to enjoy now and for many generations to come.”
Longtime central Island NDP MLA Leonard Krog (Nanaimo) said demand is no excuse for high fees.
“(Camping) fees were never designed for that, just like MSP was never designed to cover the cost of health care,” Krog said.
“It should be available to the public at reasonable or no cost,” he said. “I just think it’s outrageous that B.C. families can’t afford to camp at B.C. parks. That was always the cheap holiday for low-income families.”
Krog said a succession of NDP and Social Credit governments always understood the parks system was about providing a public amenity, something he thinks has been forgotten under the B.C. Liberals.
“Instead, they have just become another commodity,” he said. “Clearly, they just aren’t the priority they once were.”
The new fee schedule arrives with several hikes affecting many B.C. parks — a majority of them $1 or $2. The most significant Island increases involve group camping fees.
The basic family rates at some of the Island’s most popular parks, including Goldstream, Rathtrevor and Gordon Bay are not affected by the 2016 wave of increases, but each had rates jacked up by $5 in 2015.
The government says the hikes are expected to generate an additional $410, 000, which will be used to subsidize operating and maintenance costs.
In the 2014/15 fiscal year, West Coast campsites attracted 541,431 users, and generated $3,662,823 in revenue. Each figure was significantly higher than the previous six-year highs of 525,551 users and $3,286,979.
The 2015 individual breakdown was not yet available, but in 2014 Rathtrevor was the second busiest campground in the province with 80,737 overnight visitors. Goldstream was eighth (51,097) and Miracle Beach tenth (47,105). Golden Ears, outside Maple Ridge, topped the charts with 107,098 campers.
According to Krog, he’s getting feedback that the B.C. Parks system is no longer providing value for the money compared to other camping opportunities, a position the ministry rejects.
“User fees at BC Parks are generally lower than those of most private campgrounds in the province, and competitive with public sector campgrounds in other jurisdictions,” the emailed statement reads.
2016 overnight fees for other popular provincial family campsites on the Island include Morton Lake, Newcastle Island ($18 per night), Bamberton, Cowichan River, Elk Falls, China Beach, Loveland Bay, Buttle Lake ($20 per night), Englishman River Falls, Little Qualicum Falls ($23 per night), Sproat Lake ($25 per night) and French Beach ($26 per night)
According the government, more than 158, 000 reservations were made through Discover Camping last year – an increase of nearly 19% from 2014. The reservation systems opens again March 15, the same time the fee hikes take effect.