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Wi-Fi Comes to Ontario Parks, Public and Private

May 20, 2011 by   - () Leave a Comment

Popping out of your tent to check your e-mail is coming to a campsite near you.

While many people camp to enjoy nature and escape the buzz of constant technology, others find they can’t do without it, The Barrie (Ontario) Examiner reported.

“Because of peoples’ reliance on technology, we’ve had to add Wi-Fi in the campgrounds,” said Amy Raposo, at the Barrie KOA on Hwy. 93.

After 25 years of campers roasting wieners over the fire, they can now put the dogs on hold while they check their social media status, or simply return e-mails from the hammock.

There are other activities available.

Raposo is putting the finishing touches on their new gem mining attraction that will allow families to pan for emeralds, arrowheads, or fossils under the shadow of a large sluice tower.

For a nominal fee — between $5 to $10 — kids can ‘discover’ gems, or antiquities, before hopping in the pool.

Raposo also said they’ll be bringing in weekend entertainment, karaoke machines, bands and a wildlife show.

“That whole getting back to the wilderness is gone,” said Raposo with a laugh. “People have busy lives and they want a busy weekend now.”

A little farther north on Hwy. 11, Debbie Brunnel offers her mostly seasonal visitors every amenity they can think of.

“We’ve added satellite TV in the community room now,” said Brunnel from the Oro Family Campground.

“We’ll have the (hockey) game on Saturday and other shows people want to see during the summer for weekend family get-together nights.”

If the province’s statistics are anything to go by, camping in these purse-tightening economic times is on the rise.

More than 9 million people visited a provincial park in 2009, according to the most recent data available. Almost 4 million were day visitors, but more than 1 million campsites were rented in provincial parks alone.

On the downside, 4,800 people were evicted from provincial parks, and more than 40,000 warnings were handed out to naughty campers for a variety of violations.

There were 3,800 parking infractions and almost 900 liquor license violations. (While the May Victoria weekend is traditionally an alcohol-free zone at Ontario Parks, private parks don’t fall under the same restrictions).

Ontario Parks, however, are slowly testing the waters by offering Wi-Fi in a pilot project in their Pinery Provincial Park in the southwest corner of Ontario.

They attempted to get it up and running last year, but ran into a couple of hardware and software snags at the 1,000-site park, and only really offered the technology through the month of August, said spokesman John Salo of Ontario Parks.

“We’d see people sitting at the picnic table using their laptop every day, so it was in use,” said Salo. “But I wouldn’t say the response was overwhelming.”

They got a good idea of how many people were taking advantage of the new service, he said, as they only offered the signal at the picnic table in the area near the park’s store.

People could still use their USB Internet connections and their cellphones at their site, he said, so they weren’t completely untethered to technology.

He does say, however, there will be areas in Northern Ontario where the provincial parks will not be able to offer the new service in the near future.

“Some parks in Northern Ontario are using generators for power. It would be very difficult to have Wi-Fi there.”

Their mandate to have more Ontario families experience camping has led them to offer a new Learn to Camp initiative.

The provincial parks determined that one quarter of all Ontarians have never tried camping, and that 74% of new Canadians said would try it if they were taught how.

By offering hands-on training camping weekends — one night and two full days — they hope to encourage non-campers to take up the challenge — and the bug spray — in the Ontario Parks this July and August.

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