By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — Megan Maxwell, like many Manitobans, fires up her computer every spring on the opening day of campsite reservations. And like many, she has often come away disappointed as the limited number of high-demand accommodations such as yurts and cabins are snapped up within minutes.
Booking a campsite can be as competitive as buying concert tickets online.
“I’ve had family members trying, to see if we can co-ordinate,” Maxwell said.
“There’s been five different groups trying to get yurts, and maybe 20 per cent are successful (in getting sites) on weekends.”
This year, Maxwell lucked out and got a spot high in the randomly assigned electronic queue seconds after reservations opened.
“As I was clicking on weekends at the yurt I wanted, they were disappearing before my eyes. I got one locked in and then I was like ‘maybe I can do another weekend’ and all the other weekends were gone.”
For years, demand has far exceeded supply for upscale camping options such as cabins, yurts and campsites with electrical and water service for vehicles.
The provincial government is now promising to address the shortage though a 10-year, $110-million infrastructure plan to be formally announced later this year following public consultations.
“The public has a voracious appetite for more and more,” Greg Nesbitt, the minister for natural resources, said in an interview.
“You give them 50 yurts and they want 100. And that’s what we intend to do is keep expanding parks to meet the demand.”
The government commissioned a consultant’s report that was completed in December and is still being considered. The report recommends, among other things, more camping opportunities, especially so-called luxury options such as yurts and cabins. Birds Hill Provincial Park, a popular site just north of Winnipeg that currently has no yurts, could use 50, the report states.
Nesbitt hinted the government may act on that proposal when it releases its annual short-term infrastructure plan in May.
“I think that you’ll be pleasantly surprised, likely, with what we’re going to announce, that’s all I can say at this point,” he said. “But obviously, the high-demand areas, that’s where the demand is, that’s where we need to do the construction.”
The consultant’s report also suggests raising fees to recover more of the costs at parks. The $56-a-night fee for a yurt is about half what the federal government charges in national parks, and other camping fees starting at $12 a night are among the lowest in Canada, the report states.
The report’s suggested options include a sharper increase in luxury camping rates and a limited increase in rates for basic campsites. The government could also ensure access to low-income earners by having free park entry passes available through libraries, the report said.
Nesbitt said the government is not looking at increasing fees now, but some raise in the future is likely.
“I think once the public sees that we’re investing in campgrounds that perhaps have needed some capital improvements for a long time … there might be an appetite for modest rate increases in the future,” Nesbitt said.
The Opposition New Democrats said fees need to remain within reason for public access.
“They … need to make sure that they keep that so it’s affordable for everybody,” NDP natural resources critic Tom Lindsey said.
An announcement on this year’s capital plan for parks, including new yurts, will come before the May long weekend, Nesbitt said. Public consultations on the longer-term plan to improve parks and camping services are to start later this year.
The promise of more camping accommodations by the Progressive Conservative government, months out from an election slated for October, may sound familiar to Manitobans. The former NDP government promised in 2016 to double the number of yurts but lost the ensuing election.