It's not uncommon for tourists as well as Gaspé residents to spend the night under the stars, setting up a tent to sleep on one of the region's pristine beaches.
Nancy Gaul, a resident of Douglastown, southeast of the city of Gaspé, said most locals know to "leave no trace" of their passage, but with a recent surge in tourists, those beaches are taking a beating.
"We've noticed an influx, I would say twentyfold, of the number of campers," Gaul said.
In June, the city of Gaspé decided it would not allow travellers to set up tents or park their RVs for free on municipal streets or in public parks.
Perhaps as a result, a stretch of marshland near the Douglastown beach has become a magnet for travellers looking to camp in the wild.
The city did not have the power to keep people off the beaches near Douglastown because they are under provincial jurisdiction and belong to the Ministry of Natural Resources.
Without any toilets or amenities on site, the arrival of tourists coincided with the appearance of trash, bottles, human feces and even a seat from a van.
Camping on public land is permitted for up to seven months, the ministry said in an email. It said it would inspect the area but is not in charge of maintaining the site.
Some local residents say they no longer feel comfortable walking to the tranquil point that's always been a favourite. They're upset with the campers, said Gaul.
"They're squatters. These people are probably very good at heart, but there are campsites that have the proper [amenities] for camping."
While many campgrounds are full, locals believe many travellers are on the beach because they are looking for a free place to camp in the wilderness.
'Leave no trace'
Gaul would like camping banned at the site, but the spokesperson for a local citizens' committee, Gérard Gagnon, told Radio-Canada he'd prefer to see the beach better equipped.
He said signs could educate campers to leave no trace. Failing that, trash cans might solve part of the problem.
"We don't want to stop people from coming, but we want them to be equipped to pick up all their waste," Gagnon told Radio-Canada.
Tim Adams, a member of the Mi'gmag Gespeg Nation who lives across the bay from Douglastown in Penouille, said even if it's a minority of campers who are disrespectful, it's affecting the whole region.
"I just saw a diaper down the beach. Why did they leave it there?" Adams asked. Many locals walk around with plastic bags tied to their waists to pick up the trash, he said.
In a Facebook post on July 11, Gaspé Mayor Daniel Côté said "beaches are a fragile environment. They are neither race tracks nor dumps."
Côté said the city is working with the province, as well as provincial police, to find a way to deal with the problem.
Months of being cooped up
Isabelle Martin is the co-director of the Douglastown Community Centre, which runs a hostel in town overlooking the beach.
She said that after months of being cooped up, many people are trying to find their own piece of paradise, far from the crowds.
"People hope to be alone and they wander, and don't realize the impact on the environment," Martin said.
The hostel normally allows campers to drop in for a shower or to do laundry. But with the new COVID-19 restrictions they've had to restrict access to their customers only.
COVID-19 boosts Gaspé tourism
Several hotel owners and tourist attractions told CBC the 2020 season started earlier than usual, with many Quebecers making a head start on their summer vacations.
With the border closed between Canada and the U.S., many are turning to their home province, making accommodations hard to find.
Campgrounds with signs that read Complet — No Vacancy — are commonplace along Highway 132, which wraps around the peninsula.
With the two-week construction holiday starting this weekend, when thousands of Quebecers take time off work, many locals are expecting the pace to pick up even more.