Parks Canada Working to Lure More Campers
Parks Canada wants to lure more people into national parks by making camping and visits friendlier to families, city slickers and new Canadians who may never have pitched a tent in the woods.
New statistics show an overall drop of 9% in attendance at national parks since the 2007-08 season. Visits are even down in such world-renowned parks as Banff and Jasper in the Rocky Mountains, Pacific Rim in British Columbia, Cape Breton Highlands in Nova Scotia and the birdwatching mecca of Point Pelee, Ont., according to The Canadian Press.
The question is, why?
Experts say the economic downturn is part of the reason. They also note attendance figures fluctuate and can be affected by poor weather. But they think it could also be that some Canadians are losing their taste for roughing it or have simply never taken the opportunity to experience the outdoors.
"The population of Canada has become very urban," says Gloria Keyes-Brady, a Parks Canada tourism specialist. "A few decades ago people would go camping with their parents. That is not the trend anymore."
She also says there are a lot of new Canadians whose culture isn't associated with wilderness recreation. "There are so many other recreation and entertainment activities for people to do. They have so many other choices."
To introduce greenhorns to their national, natural heritage, Parks Canada is trying to think outside the traditional tent. Campers at Forillon National Park in Quebec are being offered yurts – a modern version of large, all-weather tents once used by the Mongol hordes of Genghis Khan. The yurts come complete with wood floors, windows, a stove, a sink and furniture.
Starting next spring, Jasper National Park will offer a number of sturdy "cottage tents" at its main campground, with wooden floors, beds, bunk beds, tables, lights, futon chairs, pans, plates, glasses and cutlery. The wood and fabric tents even have baseboard heaters to take some of the nip out of the mountain air.
All campers have to do is show up with a sleeping bag, food and basic supplies.
"If your family has never camped or tented before and want to check it out, without having to buy all the equipment and do setup – this might be for you," reads the Jasper Park website.
"For those looking for a peaceful retreat from the urban pace, this 'roughing-it' experience is pure relaxation."
Campers must cook and eat outside the tent because of the threat of bears but – for a fee – park staff will teach visitors the mysteries of lighting and cooking over a campfire.
There is no course on chopping wood though. Too dangerous. Split wood and kindling will be available.
"They can book a session with a park interpreter who can teach them Camping 101," Keyes-Brady says. "How to enjoy and how to be safe in their camping experience."
If the pilot project is successful, the cottage-cabin project could be expanded to other mountain parks. Some parks already offer fully equipped tent-trailers.
Parks Canada is looking at other ideas to woo prospective visitors.
Equipping more campsites with power hookups and providing larger sites for recreational vehicles is one option. And some campgrounds may be equipped for wireless Internet. There are also plans to build more play areas for children and more trails for short day hikes and other activities.
"We are looking at more little trails to give people something to do," says Keyes-Brady. "Putting in more playgrounds at campgrounds, making them more family-friendly."