Why are more people staying at provincial parks? It's a matter of opinion

The number of campers staying at provincial campgrounds in the province has reached a four-year high with 78,000 campsites booked last year.

'The provincial parks around here are less well-taken care of than the national parks,' said camper Allan Dunn

Allan Dunn is an avid camper who spends time in both provincial and national parks. (Submitted by Allan Dunn)

The number of campers staying at provincial campgrounds in Nova Scotia has reached a four-year high, a trend the Department of Natural Resources hopes will continue. 

The department believes the $5 million it has put into renovating campgrounds is drawing in more campers.

But some frequent campers disagree. One said some people are only going to provincial parks because they can't get a booking at a national park, while another believes social media may be driving up attendance.

In 2017, there were a total of 78,000 campsites booked at Nova Scotia's 20 provincial campgrounds. That's 20,500 more bookings than in 2014, according to Matt Parker, a director with the Department of Natural Resources. 

The province has recently renovated the bathroom and shower facilities at many of its provincial campgrounds. It also has installed water and electrical connections for RVs and trailers at some sites. (CBC)

He said one of the big draws is probably all the upgrades the province has made to the campgrounds in the last four years. Those include installing new bathrooms and showers and putting in water and electrical hookups for recreational vehicles and trailers.

"That's a big one there, that last one, because we're seeing a lot of our folks move into trailers, RVs, so they want those electrical and water services," said Parker. "Folks that haven't been in provincial parks for a while, they're coming back, they're seeing our improvements."

Parker said programs the department has been running have also brought more people into the campgrounds. Those include learn-to-camp programs, working with the Scouts and offering Grade 4 students and their families an opportunity to camp for two nights free of charge.

The Department of Natural Resources has been running programs to try to get more first-time campers into parks. This group was camping at Blomidon Provincial Park. (Submitted by the Department of Natural Resources)

Allan Dunn, an avid camper, isn't sold on Parker's reasoning. He's spent a lot of time camping in both provincial and national parks.

Dunn said while better showers and new electrical hookups may attract some people, it doesn't solve some of the basic problems with many provincial parks.

He said those include campsites that are wet, have poor drainage and are difficult for drivers to access with their vehicles. He said generally those problems don't exist in national parks. 

"I think it's just a general opinion of most campers that the provincial parks around here are less well-taken care of than the national parks," he said.

The Department of Natural Resources runs a program that allows Grade 4 students and their families to camp for two nights in provincial parks for free. (Submitted by the Department of Natural Resources)

Dunn said there might be an increase in numbers of campers at provincial parks because campsites at Kejimkujik National Park and Cape Breton Highlands National Park get booked up so quickly.

"There's only like, what, two national parks that you can really do some good camping in [in the province]," he said. "I guess if those two fill up … your provincial park is your next bet."

Steve Maly, an outdoor enthusiast, thinks the new programs and infrastructure in provincial parks are part of the reason more people are camping. But he thinks social media may be an even bigger driver of the numbers.

Dunn says provincial parks aren't generally maintained as well as national parks, like Kejimkujik, which is pictured above. (CBC)

As more people post pictures from the province's parks online, he said others see them and get excited about getting outdoors.

"I think a lot of people in Nova Scotia are starting to realize what's around them a lot more, getting out of the city or their own backyard," he said.

Parker says there are a wide range of things to do at provincial parks, from taking in beautiful scenery at places like RIssers Beach Provincial Park, to hiking, swimming and canoeing. (Submitted by the Department of Natural Resources)

Both Maly and Dunn said it's a good thing more people are camping and problems with parks shouldn't keep people from getting outdoors.

While provincial parks aren't perfect, Parker said they offer something that people need but struggle to get. 

"I think that they want to reconnect with nature," said Parker. "I think that's another reason why we're seeing the increase is because they are on the screens. They feel the disconnect towards nature, so our parks offer that."

About the Author

David Burke

Reporter

David Burke is a reporter in Halifax who covers everything from politics to science. His reports have been featured on The National, World Report and As it Happens, as well as the Information Morning shows in Halifax and Cape Breton.