Camping reservations are a hot ticket this summer, however camping in the age of COVID may look a little different.
While camping is not permitted under the current provincial shutdown restrictions, parks across Ontario are accepting reservations for later in the season.
“Parks Canada is asking visitors to be cautious and conservative in their use of Parks Canada administered places, to observe travel restrictions, to respect the guidance of public health experts, and to make every effort to limit the spread of COVID-19 and keep one another safe,” said, Claudia Crépeault, Parks Canada spokesperson.
Parks Canada has been accepting reservations for campsites at national parks and heritage sites since April 6. The regular season for camping in most national parks typically doesn't start until May.
According to Crépeault, reservations are not being restricted by a visitor’s origin but the agency is asking visitors to follow all local travel restrictions or self-isolation requirements.
“Due to the nature of shared and common spaces at Parks Canada campgrounds, visitors must complete any requirements for self-isolation before arriving at a campground. It is not possible to complete self-isolation periods at Parks Canada campgrounds,” she said.
Visitors are also asked to arrive prepared to be self-sufficient with a clean trip kit and extra hygiene supplies.
“Visitors should also bring their own water and food and be mindful that local services in many communities will depend on provincial or territorial restrictions implemented by the local health authority. Services may continue to remain limited in 2021 depending on local realities,” Crépeault added.
When it comes to the provincially managed campgrounds, all reservations for campsites, backcountry campsites and roofed accommodations in Ontario were temporarily closed on April 3 due to the provincial shutdown order, which is in place until at least May 6.
From Jan. 1 to April 3, 323,910 reservations were made with Ontario Parks. An increase of 145 per cent over the same timeframe in 2020 when 131,929 reservations were made.
“While we cannot predict the future impact of COVID-19 on Ontario Parks at this time, we are accepting future reservations beyond the current temporary closure date,” said Lindsay Davidson, senior issues and media relations advisor with the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks.
“It’s important to note that reservations could be automatically cancelled at any time if required in response to future provincial or regional orders or restrictions.”
Currently, reservations for campsites can be made with Ontario Parks starting in May and beyond. And, similar to Parks Canada, Ontario Parks will not be restricting visitors by origin.
“We have confidence that Ontarians will continue to vigilantly follow the public health advice, and provincial and regional restriction,” Davidson said. “We know how much people love to visit Ontario Parks…but we are asking that you only visit and enjoy a provincial park close to home. Please do not travel outside of your area to visit.”
Provincial parks will remain open for local, day-use activities and Ontario Parks is also offering free day-use visits Monday to Thursday from May 1 to September 2.
However, in an effort to address overcrowding concerns, Davidson warns there may be limits on day-use occupancy.
“We will be implementing measures to address overcrowding and promote physical distancing in our park spaces and buildings during busy visitation times by limiting occupancy for day-use and camping in select provincial parks,” he explained. “This may include limiting the number of daily vehicle permits sold or the number of campsites available for reservations. You may notice that day-use parking areas will not be as full, or some campsites will remain empty during your stay.”
All stores, visitor centres and equipment rentals within the provincial parks will be closed but cleaning and sanitizing of washroom facilities and public spaces is ongoing.
Ontario Parks also made note that ministry officers will be present in provincial parks to provide information, assist with emergencies and enforce provincial park rules and regulations, in addition to the parks being patrolled by local police or other enforcement agencies.
Both Parks Canada and Ontario Parks note that reservations that need to be cancelled due to COVID-19 will be eligible for full refunds.
Recreational camping on Crown land is also currently prohibited in Ontario.
Under the orders in place currently as per the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, individuals are currently not allowed to camp or occupy tents or other camping structures, such as trailers, recreational vehicles and watercraft equipped for overnight accommodation for recreational purposes on land administered by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry under the Public Lands Act.
Crown or public lands do not include provincial parks and conservation reserves. Though overnight camping is prohibited under the current shutdown order.
For more information on camping during the pandemic and a listing of the services available by location, visit Ontarioparks.com or ParksCanada.ca
Jennifer Golletz, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, CollingwoodToday.ca