Nova Scotia

Canada 150 is big business for Cape Breton campsites, with reservations almost doubling

Canada 150 celebrations and free park passes appear to be prompting a big jump in camping reservations for the summer season in Cape Breton.

Sales of equipped campsites have more than tripled compared to last year

Maria O'Hearn of Parks Canada, shown in her Louisbourg, N.S., office, said staff is excited about the coming year and the hiring of 100 summer students will only increase the enthusiasm. (George Mortimer/CBC)

Canada 150 celebrations and free park passes appear to be prompting a big jump in camping reservations for the summer season in Cape Breton.

Parks Canada says their online camping reservations are up 85 per cent over last year — a year that saw about 300,000 visitors make their way to Cape Breton Highlands National Park.

This year, a Discovery Pass marking the 150th anniversary of Confederation grants free access to all Parks Canada-managed parks in the country.

The agency has seen orders for more than eight million so far, and they're still available online or upon arrival at Parks Canada sites.

The free pass does not cover other costs, including camping. 

Increases everywhere

Maria O'Hearn, manager of external relations with Parks Canada, said they're seeing reservations spike across the board at the island's six camping sites.

For example, Parks Canada's specialized camping sites have seen an even bigger increase in interest.

Equipped campsites, which provide everything including a tent, sleeping pads and cooking gear, have been reserved 380 per cent more than last year.

oTENTik, which is a cross between a tent and a rustic cabin, has seen a 125 per cent increase in reservations.

A family camps in an oTENTik at the Cheticamp Campground in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. (Scott Munn/Parks Canada)

O'Hearn said the excitement is palpable among staff and Parks Canada's decision to hire 100 summer students will only make things better.

"They give a certain energy, enthusiasm, new ideas to the table," she said.

Book early

O'Hearn said half the students have been hired already, and final interviews for the rest will be held in the next two weeks.

"We have jobs in interpretation, resource conservation, we have jobs in photography, videography, social media, promotions and communications," she said. 

O'Hearn said given the strong bookings now they're advising people to book online early to ensure a camping spot. The season opens on the Victoria Day weekend.

The Canada 150 hype is also impacting provincial camping, though the Discovery Passes don't apply. Provincial numbers are up 33 per cent from 2016 and 84 per cent over the previous year.  
"Everyone loves a birthday celebration, just outstanding numbers early, some of the busier parks including the Mira [River Provincial Park], we've extended the season on them to accommodate that demand," said Lloyd Hines, provincial natural resources minister.

The camping season at Mira River will run until Oct. 15. The season at Blomidon in Kings County and Ellenwood Lake in Yarmouth county will run until Oct. 9. Others will close on Sept. 12.