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Ontarians hit campgrounds for July 1 long weekend and beyond

After a winter cooped up indoors and a year of wearing masks outside the house, Ontarians are embracing the great outdoors, flocking to campsites in large numbers. 

Many campgrounds are booked all weekends in the summer

Canadians are scooping up camp sites to get outdoors and away for restrictions this summer. (photo credit: @YaelMcEwaan)

After a winter cooped up indoors and a year of wearing masks outside the house, Ontarians are embracing the great outdoors, flocking to campsites in large numbers. 

This Canada Day weekend, Ontario Parks is counting 8,829 campsites reserved in the southwestern part of the province alone. 

"Everyone is fed up with COVID by now, but everyone is in high spirits out here," said Dylan Ralf, a manager at the Lake Whitaker Conservation Area south of London, Ont.

"Most years when we run into problems, there are complaints. But this year, everyone is just extremely happy to be here, and if something isn't right, they just ask for a fix. It's really nice." 

The philosophy seem to be: If they have to spend time with the same people, they might as well do it outdoors, Ralf said. 

"When we opened for booking in March, we had a record number of people calling, about 300 reservations during the first few hours," he said. "Every weekend is basically filled up, and we're telling people to come during the week.

"Everyone has been cooped up at home for 12, 16 months, people are starting to appreciate the little things in life, like nature." 

Although overnight summer camps are allowed to open in Phase 2 of the province's reopening plan, which began Wednesday, most are not operating because they haven't had enough time to hire staff and plan. 

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"We offer both seasonal and nightly camping, and our nightly camping is completely booked up for this weekend, 100 per cent," said Jennifer Howley, manager of conservation areas for the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority, which operates the Fanshawe, Wildwood and Pittock conservation areas. 

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"People have definitely been using our conservation areas more during the pandemic," she said. 

"It's busy on weekends and we're encouraging people to visit during non-traditional or less busy times, such as during the week." 

Amenities at provincial conservation areas are open this year, including showers. Ontario Parks says they will be cleaned twice per day or more in high use areas. 

"I think the ability to be outdoors, to be outside in the fresh air, has a lot of links to mental health and mental wellness," Howley said. "People are looking to the green spaces to achieve some of that solidarity that they're looking for." 

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