New Brunswick

Park operators optimistic locals will still 'rediscover' N.B. as summer unofficially begins

New Brunswick park operators are optimistic that 2021 will be a good season as the May long weekend approaches, marking the unofficial beginning of summer.

Government plans to bring staycation travel incentive back this summer to boost tourist numbers

Numbers were down last year at the Hopewell Rocks, but park officials are hoping for a good season. (Hopewell Rocks Provincial Park)

New Brunswick park operators are optimistic that 2021 will be a good season as the May long weekend approaches, marking the unofficial beginning of summer.

The Atlantic bubble is still closed, but all indications are that New Brunswickers are anxious to travel within the confines of their home province.

"It's astoundingly busy," said Géraldine Arsenault, who oversees Kouchibouguac National Park.

Arsenault, superintendent of the northern New Brunswick field unit, said reservations are up, even compared to pre-COVID times.

When the park launched its season in January of 2020, before the pandemic began, it received 2,000 reservations. During this year's launch in April, Kouchibouguac recorded 4,241 reservations. 

Oasis accommodation in the forest with beach view at Kouchibouguac National Park, where reservations more than doubled on this year's launch day, compared to last year's numbers. (Nigel Fearon)

"People are really hungry to get out there," Arsenault said. "People are really, really sick of being stuck at home and want to get out and go camping and we totally get that."

Fundy National Park saw a similar trend with approximately 6,000 reservations made on launch day, up from about 3,000 last year.

Silver pandemic linings

Arsenault credits the pandemic with forcing people to explore their own province.

"More than 80 per cent of our reservations are from New Brunswickers, so this is also very encouraging because it means … if the bubble doesn't open we don't have to re-jig a whole bunch of things." she said.

One of New Brunswick's most popular tourist attractions, the Hopewell Rocks, is also expecting a good season.

Kevin Snair, public relations and marketing co–ordinator, said the Rocks have always been a popular attraction for international travellers, but last summer was much quieter. 

For him, the silver lining has been watching New Brunswickers rediscover the attractions in their own backyard.

Kevin Snair, public relations and marketing co-ordinator for the Hopewell Rocks, says the attraction has always drawn international visitors. But with the borders closed, New Brunswickers are rediscovering the park. (Craig Norris)

"A lot of people, they haven't been here for years or they may have found it in the past to be a bit crowded," said Snair.

"That's not the case right now. We've got incredible trails to explore.  People are rediscovering this park and you can't ask for anything more than that."

He said the park has made improvements to its Facebook page and park signage detailing the schedule for the tides. He hopes those changes, combined with the young peregrine falcons who were just born, will bring in even more people.

Travel incentive to be offered again

Campsites at other provincial and national parks are heating up as well.

Michel Mallet, the park manager for Parlee Provincial Park and Murray Beach Provincial Park, said sites at both campgrounds were 25 per cent booked in February and the numbers have been going up weekly.

Parlee has 200 tent campsites and six rustic cabins, while Murray Beach has over 100 tent campsites.

Mallet said there was a decrease in "day users" last year, with some locals visiting Parlee Beach only after they stopped charging admission at 4 p.m..

"The silver lining in all that last summer, we noticed an increase in what we call New Brunswickers, first-timers," he said.

"People that normally would maybe go somewhere else in the Atlantic [region] that stayed in the province and took advantage of our park so hopefully those visitors are going to come back."

Parlee Beach Provincial Park is in the midst of building an accessible area and playground, and has made improvements to food and beverage facilities, according to manager Michel Mallet. (CBC)

Mallet said accessible areas are being added, and the food and beverage service facilities have been upgraded. Moncton restaurant Euston Park is providing the food.

All of the provincial and national parks have COVID-19 rules and regulations in place, including physical distancing and mask wearing when distance can not be maintained.

Mallet said COVID-19 was a new challenge last year, but he feels people are now more educated and used to following restrictions.

"The beach is wide, it's an open space, it's green space, it's good for mental health, it's good for well being and we've got wide space so we're ready to welcome everybody in." 

"I'm confident we're going to see our numbers coming back."

Mallet also thinks last year's NB Travel Incentive program, which offered rebates for residents who travelled within the province, was a good idea.

Fundy National Park has noticed reservation numbers rising. The park advises people to book ahead. (Fundy National Park)

The province said the Explore NB Travel Incentive Program will be re-offered this summer, but no details have been released.

"As long as all things continue to improve in relation to COVID-19, we will look forward to announcing the dates of the summer Explore NB Travel Incentive Program," Morgan Bell, a communications officer with Tourism, Heritage and Culture said in an e-mailed statement.

Géraldine Arsenault said the situation is always changing, so checking ahead will ensure a great outdoor experience. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate Letterick is a reporter with CBC New Brunswick.

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