British Columbia

Influx of campers and trailers frustrates residents of B.C. Interior worried about COVID-19

Residents of the region around Princeton, B.C. are voicing concerns about the steady flow of recreational campers and visitors into their towns over the long weekend, saying it’s putting their communities at risk in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak.

Locals say the only grocery store in the Princeton area was emptied out over the weekend

Trailers have been staying at a private campground near the Granite Creek recreational site in Coalmont, B.C. (Submitted)

Residents of the region around Princeton, B.C., are voicing concerns about the steady flow of recreational campers and visitors into their towns over the long weekend, saying it's putting their communities at risk in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak.

People living in Princeton and the nearby communities of Coalmont and Tulameen, took to social media, posting photos of trailers and campsites.

The mayor of Princeton said he was getting calls from worried residents long into Friday night about the number of visitors headed into town.

"Friday it was a constant stream of cars headed down looking for camping spots," said Spencer Coyne. "RV after RV."

He says he took a drive around the area and saw people pulled off the road and camping in the bush. Some people are even going so far as to pull down barriers that have been set up to block access to recreational sites, he says.

Grocery store emptied out

Coyne is frustrated that people aren't following instructions to stay home.

He says the only local grocery store, a Save-On-Foods in Princeton, has had its shelves emptied this weekend. He's also worried about the potential strain on first responders and on the one regional hospital.

"People just don't seem to understand that we have a limited amount of resources here and we can't afford at this time to have those extra pressures put on those resources."

But Ernie Rice believes people should be allowed to get out and enjoy the region, as long as they practice physical distancing.

He manages the Granite Creek recreational site in Coalmont. While the rec site is officially shut down, he owns a private site next to it that he's allowing people to access.

All recreational sites in B.C. have been closed as part of the restrictions to limit the spread of COVID-19. (Submitted)

Rice says as of Sunday afternoon there were seven trailers on site for a total of about 14 people. According to him, everyone is following physical distancing guidelines.

"They're very conscientious about this whole thing," he said. "The RCMP came in and they checked it out and everything was kosher with them. Everybody was doing what they should be doing. So they were okay with it."

Rice says each trailer is equipped with its own toilet and with more than 50 metres of space, the property makes physical distancing easy to achieve.

No travel restrictions in B.C., says province

The local RCMP detachment didn't respond to a request by CBC News to confirm whether it had inspected Rice's private campsite in time for publication.

BC Parks says all its facilities are closed and staff are currently monitoring and patrolling the parks and protected areas.

Coyne says its a nearly impossible job for conservation officers trying to patrol a wide area.

"They've been in the community making a presence and they're trying their best but there's just too many people."

He's frustrated by the lack of enforcement when it comes to non-essential travel.

"The provinces are either going to have to mandate that there's no non-essential travel or this is going to keep happening."

However, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says there are no plans to implement travel restrictions in British Columbia.

Rice says the people staying on his property were mindful of limiting their interaction with the local community by bringing their own groceries. He thinks people deserve a break from being cooped up inside their homes.

"They wanted a break from being housed up in their place at the coast and there's a lot of them that say it was safer here than it was even at their own place."

Still, Rice says he regrets any stress caused by the situation.

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