Provincial parks see more New Brunswick visitors than years past
COVID-19 restrictions lead more New Brunswickers to try camping in their own province
With travel restrictions preventing New Brunswickers from travelling outside the Atlantic region this summer, more have turned to provincial parks for their vacation.
The parks have seen a 30 per cent increase in campsite reservations from New Brunwickers this summer, said Tourism Minister Bruce Fitch.
Fitch said some parks are doing much better than others.
"I know that some of the northern parks like Sugarloaf or Republique, who depend more on the Quebec bubble or the Quebec visitors there, they're down," Fitch said. "But I was just talking with Mactaquac and Parlee and Murray Beach, and basically you'll be lucky to get a camp spot there for a tent."
"It's really been packed."
For example, Sugarloaf Park's numbers are down from 1,827, including 606 New Brunswickers, in 2019 to 521, including 450 New Brunswickers, in 2020.
However, Mactaquac Park's numbers remain almost the same, but it's had more visits than usual this summer from New Brunswickers: 11,575, including 11,443 New Brunswickers, in 2020, compared to 2019's numbers at 11,715, including 9,825 New Brunswickers.
Fitch said he believes that once people try camping, it becomes part of their lifestyle, and he hopes new campers continue to return to the parks for years to come.
Fitch said if campers are not having any luck finding accommodations at the provincial parks, there are still a lot of private parks with spaces.
"The book on COVID-19 summer hadn't been written when we were looking forward. Now that we're in the middle of summer, I think people expected the numbers would be down overall.
"Some of the concerts and sporting events aren't happening, but this is an alternative, where they can feel comfortable outside, they can get that social distancing without feeling cramped, and it's turning out to be a positive experience for them."
But Fitch said it's hard to say if the provincial and private parks will be able to sustain themselves on the revenue from this summer.
"From a camping standpoint, we're still at capacity. The parks are still allowed to take enough because the social distancing is already kind of built into the site."
Washrooms and other facilities have been modified to follow COVID-19 guidelines.
The province is offering a 20 per cent rebate through the Explore NB Travel Incentive program, which encourages New Brunswick residents to travel and spend in New Brunswick during the summer and early fall of 2020.
Fitch said the feedback to the Explore NB program has been great thus far.
"My experience down in Alma, where we were there at the first of this summer, it was a bit of a ghost town," Fitch said. "The follow up I've heard in the last week or so, the sticky buns are flying off the shelves, and it was quite back to as normal as they used to be in the past."
A spokesperson for Fundy National Park said it has seen a 60 per cent overall decrease in reservations because of COVID-19 and have closed two of five camping areas.
The park is running at a 30 per cent occupancy rate, but 80 per cent of those reservations are New Brunswickers, with others coming from within the Atlantic bubble.
Glen Ferguson is a regular camper at Mount Carleton Park, and said he has already gone four times this year.
"Quite happy with going there and feel very lucky to have that space available for us when we're going through this pandemic," Ferguson said.
He said he has noticed an increase in people visiting the camp this year compared to past years he has gone.
"It seems to be extremely busy this year, I wouldn't doubt if it's the busiest they've ever had it," said Ferguson.
He said he typically doesn't go to Mount Carleton on the weekends because that is when it is busy.
"I generally like to go early in the week, when in the past, that would be the time when there wouldn't be as many people there," Ferguson said. "There's no availability, and even getting the campsites even during the week now, it's pretty sparse in regards to how many are available."
"I've never seen it so busy. It's great. A lot of people are seemingly getting out there and doing the staycation thing."