South Okanagan village wants to ban camping at party spot

If the Village of Keremeos gets its way, partiers could soon face new bylaws and fines at an unofficial camping location near the Similkameen River.

Trash left behind on nearby riverbed includes human waste, drug paraphernalia, says mayor of Keremeos

Camping debris found in the Similkameen riverbed which dries up during the summer months. (Village of Keremeos)

The Village of Keremeos is hoping to acquire land from the province in order to stop 'undesirable' activities at a popular camping and partying spot along the Similkameen River.

For years, local officials have raised concerns about seasonal farm workers and transients camping on the dry riverbed on Crown land southeast of the village, leaving behind garbage, human waste and drug paraphernalia.

"The impact from the garbage that's left behind from mostly young people who take this place as a freebie for having a good time is significant," said Mayor Manfred Bauer.

"It's not the cost of removing the garbage, it's the cost to the environment."

He calls the area environmentally sensitive with a number of fish species identified as threatened and "particularly vulnerable to human impact."

'Last attempt to preserve Mother Nature'

The village has previously asked the province to ban camping in the area or better police the site with conservation officers and the RCMP.

Now, the community is asking the Ministry of Forests to give the municipality license of occupation — a tenure awarded under the Land Act — so it would fall under the village's bylaws that prohibit camping.

"We have had plenty of discussions and looked at so many different perspectives and this really is the very last attempt to preserve Mother Nature," said Bauer.

He said in his 30 years in the region, he's witnessed a steady increase of partying at the site with up to 150 people camping on the riverbed at a time.

Bauer blames social media sites like Facebook and Instagram with increasing the public's awareness of the location.

Possible change by summer

"Everybody has a smart phone, has an iPad," he said.

"You find a good spot and in two seconds you've told 20 other friends and they've told 20 other friends and so on."

He's hoping if the site falls under municipal bylaws, word will spread on social media that "certain activities are no longer appreciated and there are consequences."

In B.C., it is legal for people to camp on Crown land for up to 14 days.

The mayor of Keremeos says trash discarded by campers pollutes the Similkameen river once water levels rise in the winter. (Village of Keremeos)

The province said the Village of Keremeos submitted a Crown land application late last week.

In a statement, the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development said it has started to review the application. 

The review process includes sending referrals to First Nations, stakeholders and accepting comments from the public. 

The province said it is possible that a decision could be made by the summer.

More of the trash left behind, by what the mayor of Keremeos calls "a mix of transients." He said there can sometimes be up to 150 people camping in the riverbed. (Village of Keremeos)

With files from CBC's Daybreak South and Brady Strachan.

About the Author

Jaimie Kehler

Jaimie Kehler is a web writer, producer and broadcaster based in Kelowna, B.C. She has also worked for CBC News in Toronto and Ottawa. To contact her with a story, email jaimie.kehler@cbc.ca.