Bus program connects travellers to N. Ont parks

An express bus service that drives campers from southern Ontario cities to northern Ontario parks is trying to help give those destinations a new lease on life.

Parkbus program brings southern Ontario tourists to provincial parks in northern Ontario

Parkbus was born in 2010 as a private initiative by a group of outdoor enthusiasts who wanted to make outdoor destinations in Ontario accessible by public transportation. (Supplied)

An express bus service that drives campers from southern Ontario cities to northern Ontario parks is trying to help give those destinations a new lease on life.

Parkbus is a non-profit initiative that has expanded to include new routes to Killarney, Grundy Lake, and French River provincial parks.

One of the founders of Parkbus said he recognizes there have been some parks in the north that have shut down or ended overnight camping because of declining numbers.

"We're definitely looking at helping them out with both the shoulder season which is the most important for the local tourism industry, as well as looking at some of the less popular parks," Boris Issaev said.

Issaev noted more than 1,000 tickets have already been sold for this season's routes and that Parkbus is working with park operators to create more group deals.

Parkbus is also eyeing expansion further north to places such as Pukaskwa National Park and Provincial Park in northwestern Ontario.

Increase in campers

Issaev, who helped found Parkbus in 2010, is an avid outdoorsman. He said having a car opened up the northern Ontario region for him, but that not everyone is that lucky.

"And then I thought, why wasn't there a bus running to all these parks, considering there are so many people in Toronto, Ottawa [and] all these cities in Ontario that don't have cars."

A round-trip ticket from Toronto to Killarney Provincial Park costs about $85.

The acting superintendent at Killarney said the park has seen an increase in campers from southern Ontario since Parkbus began, and feedback has been positive.

"One gentleman told me that if Parkbus did a trip every weekend he'd be up here," Jeremy Pawson said.

"And other folks told me they would never be able to experience Killarney without Parkbus, so it's definitely been a positive program."

The idea for the bussing was pitched to Ontario Parks, as well as Mountain Equipment Co-op, who "really liked the idea from the onset," Issaev said.

"That really encouraged us to call other bus companies and put this together with Muskoka-based company Hammond Transportation."

‘A good mix’

This year they’ll also partner up with Ontario Parks learn-to-camp program, which they'll be conducting in the near north region for the first time this year. Parkbus is working with them to have direct bus service from Toronto

Issaev remarked the majority of people who use the service between the ages of 25 and 45, and often travel in pairs or with their families.

"About a quarter of our demographic are international tourists and we have quite a bit of seniors and students as well," he said. "So it's a good mix."

Pawson said the service helps "people to experience Killarney and northern Ontario who haven't had an opportunity to do so."

When the busloads of people arrive at the park, they are met by park officials and given their park permits.

 "Anyone who requires accessibility assistance, we'll take them down to their campsite," Pawson said.

"We provide some wildlife-proof containers for all their food and then they're free to enjoy the park."