Over the last year, Ontario Parks has been testing a new fee model for backcountry camping that sees some campers paying three times as much as previous prices.
The pilot project is being run in Ontario’s Massasauga and Temagami cluster of parks where campers, regardless of group size, are being charged $40.75 and $32.50 per night, respectively. Previously, backcountry camping cost $9/night per person.
According to the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP), this pilot project, now in its second year, is an attempt to make backcountry camping fees more consistent with the flat rate per-campsite model Ontario Parks uses for car camping.
“That does not make much sense to me,” said Sakthi Periasellappan, founder of OntarioCamping.ca. “The users of backcountry camping are very, very different from car camping. Car camping is bigger groups with families, kids, dogs, people looking for beaches and stuff like that. Whereas backcountry camping, those users go to connect with nature, and are mostly a single user or couple.”
The flat-fee model will benefit larger groups who would no longer have to pay per person, but it could see solo campers paying 300 per cent more than they did previously. According to the MECP, the average backcountry camping group size is made up of four people, so it argues that the average group should not experience an increase in camping fees.
In response to the pilot project, an online petition started by Hugh Carey argues that the price increase precludes the use of backcountry campsites by those who travel solo. The petition has been signed by over 8,000 people.
The fees charged at Massasauga and Temagami during the pilot project are calculated based on each park’s available amenities. “The Massasauga backcountry sites are outfitted with many amenities that require maintenance and sometimes replacements, including a picnic table, fire pit, and box privy, and some have food lockers. However, the set fees for the Temagami Cluster of Parks are lower since they offer a more rustic experience with no extra amenities,” the MECP said in an email.
Those two parks were chosen for the pilot project because they both offer backcountry campsites and have different reservation models.
The pilot project will run until the end of the 2021 camping season at which point Ontario Parks will analyze its collected data, including the average number of people per backcountry camping site, before making a decision about the long-term plan for backcountry camping fees across Ontario’s provincial parks.
Periaselleppan, however, said he believes that increased fees might cause people to try to avoid paying. “The likelihood of you encountering a warden or a superintendent is slim. And if you were to go camping for a week, the fee could be a couple hundred dollars, but the fine is probably less than that.”
Periasellappan has a point. Backcountry camping for a week in Massasauga at its current rate would cost $280, while the minimum fine for camping without a permit is $125, according to Ontario Parks.
Camping on crown land, which is free, is another option, Periasellappan added. But either way, he’s convinced that if the prices are too high, people will look for alternatives.