Illegal Banff camping on the rise as affordable housing crunch continues

There's a big increase in illegal camp sites around Banff this year, and many of the campers are people passing through town and others who can't find an affordable place to live.

More clandestine campsites already discovered in 2016 than all of last year

Like other mountain resort town, Banff's natural beauty attracts people from all over the world to visit but also live. (Evelyne Asselin/CBC)

Banff National Park officials say they've seen a spike in illegal camping this year, with many of the violations coming from people passing through town and others struggling to find an affordable place to live.

"They camp on day use areas, along roads, in and around town, on the outskirts of campgrounds," said Terry Willis, a park warden supervisor in Banff. 

So far this year, he said 230 illegal campsites have already been discovered, outpacing the 214 found in all of 2015.

Willis said the practice is harmful to the environment and risky to humans.

"I think it's a pretty significant risk," he said. "Bears live here. Wolves live here. Cougars live here."

It can also be a financial risk, with maximum fines for violations of the park's camping rules running as high as $5,000.

Nevertheless, it's a risk many appear willing to take, especially given how notoriously difficult it is to find cheap places to stay in Banff.

Employment is often easier to come by than affordable accommodation, especially for temporary foreign workers and post-secondary students spending a session away from school.

Unlike cities like Calgary, the Town of Banff cannot simply expand to accommodate its population. It's locked inside the boundaries and development rules established by Parks Canada. One solution is densification. This single family home is being converted to a duplex. (Evelyne Asselin/CBC)

But Sharon Oakley with the Town of Banff says they're working with Parks Canada on improving the housing situation by releasing more lots for affordable housing development.

The town has been administered by the federal government for more than a century, and was incorporated as an Alberta municipality in 1990.

Still, the town remains a part of Banff National Park, meaning the federal government retains ownership of all land and the municipality is subject to the National Parks Act.

with files from Dan McGarvey