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'People everywhere': Physical distancing takes a holiday at some Yukon recreation spots

Yukon's territorial campgrounds have been busy this year. Maybe too busy, according to some.

Campgrounds have been busy this year, and that has some locals concerned about overcrowding

Flo Kushniruk took this photo of the Pine Lake campground from her kayak on Saturday. 'I never saw it that busy,' she said. (Submitted by Flo Kushniruk)

Yukon's campgrounds have been busy this year, and that has some people concerned about physical distancing — or the lack of it. 

Last weekend, the Pine Lake Campground and day-use area near Haines Junction was packed.

"There were just people everywhere," said Flo Kushniruk, who lives in Haines Junction. "And the number of people on the beach — I was born and raised in the Yukon ... and I don't think I have ever seen that beach and that parking lot that packed."

Kushniruk went to Pine Lake on the weekend hoping to launch her kayak. She found a line of people trying to go into the campground.

"There was absolutely nowhere to park. We saw a camper van that was literally pulled into the ditch," she said.

Kushniruk said she even saw American licence plates. Americans are permitted to transit through Yukon to or from Alaska, but are advised not to stop over in territorial campgrounds.

Kushniruk ended up going to nearby Pine Creek to launch her kayak. Once on the water, she had a good view of the crowded beach. 

"I never saw it that busy," she said.

A rare sight in Yukon this summer — a vacant campsite. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

Kushniruk says there should be more monitoring of government campgrounds to keep the numbers down. She feels that a lot of people are looking for a weekend getaway, and that means physical distancing can be difficult.  

She is worried that any case of COVID-19 would be devastating to her small community of about 1,000 people.

She said Pine Lake Campground is her town's playground and she doesn't want to see it closed down. 

'A really busy year'

Yukon government officials confirm that this year has been busy for camping. Many territorial campgrounds are full every weekend.  

"We regularly patrol and respond where we can. But I will emphasize it has been a really busy year," says Mike Etches, director of Yukon Parks. 

'We regularly patrol and respond where we can,' said Mike Etches, director of Yukon Parks. (Dave Croft/CBC)

Etches says people have to continue to be careful and observe public health guidelines.

"Just because you can now have a gathering of up to 50 people outdoors, think about the people you are interacting with. Just go back to those 'safe six,' to guide you and your behaviours," he said, referring to the Yukon government's six steps to staying safe — one of them being physical distancing.

"That does you well in a campground," Etches said.  

Speaking at a news conference on Wednesday, Community Services Minister John Streicker also acknowledged that some recreation spots in the territory have been busy — including Pine Lake, the Tagish Bridge Recreation Site, and the Bennett Lake beach in Carcross — and that it's a concern for some residents.

He urged people to be flexible, and change plans if they have to.

"If you arrive at a recreation spot and it is busy or crowded, consider moving on to another area. If there is not space for you to set up two metres away from others, then it is not the day to use this place," Streicker said.

"I appreciate how hard that can be, especially if you have travelled a distance to get there."

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