The grassroots society looking after rural provincial campsites in the Lakes District is concerned that some may soon be accessible only by paying overnight fees.
The most popular of these sites under consideration is Kager Lake.
The Lakes Outdoor Recreation Society (LORS) now maintains 27 rec sites and three provincial park sites in the local area. They are partially funded and supplied with some hardware and toiletries by Recreation Sites and Trails BC (RSTBC) and BC Parks, the ultimate provincial overseers of B.C.’s rural camping spots on Crown land.
LORS comes up with the remaining money for basic maintenance by fundraising. It has been going on this way for more than two decades.
The group is concerned that they are not being heard in discussions at the government level suggesting a fee-for-service model would be good for some of the Lakes District sites.
No, said LORS president Garth Schienbein, they would not.
The math just doesn’t add up, he said. The amount raised by the ticket-taker wouldn’t be enough to even pay the ticket-taker, most days.
The one site that gets enough overnight traffic to consider thinking about that plan, he said, is Kager Lake on Boer Mountain Road, and there are plenty of reasons it still wouldn’t work there, starting with the fact it is a place with a shared usage partner, the world-renowned Ride Burns bike park, and charging fees, ostensibly to upkeep the campsites, would actually clash with the biking relationship, and for LORS’ own fundraising. These not-for-profit organizations are already making Kager Lake a premier camping destination that is free to use, and they get financial help as a result, by donations and other income streams, but Schienbein expects that would likely be curtailed if people had to drop their money instead into nightly fees. Ride Burns has put up a donation box at the site and it does receive some donations.
“In addition, it would be very difficult to recover the cost of a person employed daily to collect the fees and provide funding for maintenance,” Schienbein said.
Furthermore, he said, if campers knew a particular site was going to cost them money, they would just go instead to any number of the other free ones in the local area.
Brandy Hughes, the Smithers-based recreation officer for RSTBC, replied that LORS was overreacting. She told the Lakes District News that there is “a very good chance that Kager Lake will not become a fee site in the near future” and that the “concerns expressed…have been discussed with LORS several times over the past seven years I’ve been in this role.” She said there were “numerous errors and misunderstandings” in the statements LORS was making.
One such error, she said, was that the Eagle Creek Rec Site, also known as Opal Beds – traditionally one of Burns Lake’s go-to tourist activity spots – had been shut down by the government in 2021 without a word to LORS.
“It’s incorrect that Eagle Creek Recreation Site is closed. The site is open and the club was consulted,” said Hughes.
Indeed you can find it displayed on the RSTBC website, marked as open, but there are other indicators, said Schienbein.
“How can you not consider it closed when you (RSTBC personnel) actually go to the site and remove the picnic tables and the outhouse and the fire rings, remove everything to the point where they took things we ourselves had put in, without a comment to us it was going to happen,” said Schienbein, when the correct course of action, according to the local society, would have been to replace anything that needed fixing, and enhance the site’s shortcomings like the recent blowdown on the trail, for example, since it has been so popular for so long.
It’s another example of RSTBC forgetting who does the work, at these sites, and how reflective of public sentiment they are in regard to the camping and hiking at these places far from a corporate office several communities removed, Schienbein said. Going back to the Kager Lake example, he said, “It very well could be that it’s not a decided thing, but they have given every indication that it is being considered, and not just that site, there are others.”
The society was also not consulted when the RSTBC office decided that the rec site at Noralee East on Francois Lake, heading west down Colleymount Road, should be converted into an accessible site when there were others that people with mobility challenges were already known to frequent and made more sense to add the accessibility features.
“Although the provincial government is publicly supporting tourism and affordable, accessible recreational sites, history seems to be repeating itself locally in their lack of consultation and commitment to put their money where their mouth is,” Schienbein said. “Campsites are necessary to reduce environmental damage and wildfire and are economically necessary to single resource towns like Burns Lake and need to be funded and maintained as such.”