Parks minister considering tweaks to camping reservation system

Mary Polak says B.C. needs more campsites, but in the meantime could take small steps to make it easier to secure reservations

The minister in charge of B.C. Parks says we need more campsites.

But in the meantime, she is considering tweaking the reservation system as a way to address the increasingly difficult task of booking a site.

B.C.’s Discover Camping is poised to have a record year for reservations, with empty public campsites on Vancouver Island becoming increasingly difficult to find, particularly on weekends. Complaints of queue-jumping and reservation-scalping are becoming more frequent.

In a statement issued Thursday, Mary Polak said the provincial parks system has become a victim of its own success.

“There are simply too many people chasing too few campsites,” Polak (below) said. “The ultimate solution is to increase the supply of campsites, but that will take some time.

Mary Polak“Availability of land in high-demand areas is one challenge but, as well, for everyone who wants to see expanded campsites for recreational purposes, you have another person who says, ‘No, I don’t want you to cut down more trees.’”

In the short term, Polak is considering some changes in the booking system to give more people an opportunity to get a site.

Ideas include: adjusting the reservation opening dates; lengthening the three-month rolling reservation window; and shortening the maximum stay in high-demand parks from 14 days to seven.

The most common method of cheating the system is to book a lengthier stay than you want in order to secure days that otherwise would not be available, then cancelling the days you didn’t want.

Polak stresses that less then one per cent of the sites booked go to commercial operators, who then re-sell the reservations as part of tour packages, and less than a dozen cases of out-and-out private scalping have been found.

There are about 5,800 reservable campsites in B.C., about 1,300 of them on Vancouver Island. Last year, more than 158,000 reservations were booked through Discover Camping and this year is on pace to top that, with 131,000 made so far. British Columbians make about 75 per cent of the reservations.

“Every year we make changes to improve the Discover Camping system to ensure it is fair and every year some people find new ways to circumvent the system,” Polak said.

“All options will be carefully considered to make sure we don’t negatively impact the majority of our users, while trying to solve a problem that is only being abused by a handful of reservation holders.

Follow me on Twitter @JohnMcKinleyBP

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