Ontario Parks Adjust to Evolution of Campers
It used to be that a camping experience was little more than a camp spot by the lake with, hopefully, nearby showers and clean restroom facilities.
These days campgrounds, especially the privately run, for-profit variety, have moved far beyond their roughing-it roots to provide heated, indoor swimming pools, games rooms and scheduled family events, the National Post, Don Mills, Ontario, reported.
“Most of the parks, if you go on their websites, actually publish their weekend events,” says Alexandra Anderson, executive director of Camping in Ontario, which represents about 425 of the approximately 1,000 private campground operators in the province.
Basically, any real (and imaged) event has been seized upon by operators looking to generate the excitement that comes with major calendar holidays. “Christmas in July is a biggie, Halloween (in the summer) is always a big one, the parades and parties that go on for Canada Day are crazy now.”
To attract an audience beyond hard-core campers who may prefer the more bare-bones camping experience of provincial and national parks, many private operators have added splash pads, water slides and elaborate water toys such as floating trampolines.
“It is very much more of a resort scenario,” Anderson says. “Camping is no longer just the event any more. It’s the camping and what else can we do with the camping.”
The proof that camping is more than just a struggle to pitch an unfamiliar tent in the dark or praying for a stop in the rain can be found at campgrounds such as Bissell’s Hideaway in the Niagara region of southern Ontario.
Besides campsites, the park offers a one-acre swimming pool, giant water slide, kiddies splash pool, daily activities and a host of sports and leisure facilities ranging from free paddleboats to mini-putt golf, playground, arcade and sports activities ranging from tennis and beach volleyball and shuffleboard.
“We have found over the years that people want more and more, so we just keep adding activities or toys that enhances fun times for families,” says Ed Miklavcic, manager of the Ontario resort park.
Getting people out of tents and into more plush accommodations is also a key component of broadening the appeal of a campground,” Miklavcic says.
Some park operators used to offer rudimentary sheds for campers who preferred not to sleep in tents. Bissell’s has taken that a few steps further, renting out cabins that range from rustic to mid-range units sporting full bathroom and kitchen facilities to larger deluxe cabins with all the comforts of home.
“It almost like luxury hotel rooms,” says Miklavcic of the upscale cabins. “They have kitchens and living rooms and TVs, the whole bit. So you are basically getting your hotel room but with the great outdoors with it.
“The thing about it is you have a part of the population that would never think of camping because they don’t want to kind of rough it,” he says. “With these units then you basically open up your whole clientele.”
Anderson notes that generally campgrounds closest to major population centers in the province offer more family-geared frills than more remote locations – an observation that rings true across the rest of the country with some exceptions. “We in the south (of the province), what they call “sissy camp,” we obviously have more amenities than our northern friends.”
With campground operators offering more and more amenities, virtually any special needs or requirements can be met, adds the Camping Ontario executive director.
“We have one campground where you can actually take your horse to,” she says of one campground north of Toronto which boasts horse paddocks and riding trails.
“We have a couple of nudist campgrounds.”
Furry family members are also part of the camping experience, she adds, noting that just two of her member campgrounds ban dogs, although more campgrounds exclude certain aggressive breeds.
“We have some that are really starting to cater to our four-legged friends because they are our new children. So doggie beaches are popular with places to hose them down after with their own off-leash area.”