Reservations for some B.C. Parks camp sites are now open. (File photo)

‘Just went crazy:’ Group gets lots of interest in random camping on public land

Parks Canada has said campgrounds in national parks will remain closed until at least June 21

Ryan Epp started a Facebook group in early April to find some new camping buddies and meet some new friends.

Two months later, his group named Crown Land Camping Alberta has more than 31,000 members.

“I was hoping for maybe 50, 60 people to join up,” Epp, who lives in Calgary, said in an interview this week. “I had over a thousand by the third day — and it just went crazy from that.

“It’s been growing for the last while between 500 and 1,000 new members a day.”

Group members share tips on where and how to camp on public land in Alberta — a longtime practice that’s commonly known as random camping.

Epp, 46, said he created the group after the COVID-19 pandemic led to closures at national and provincial campgrounds.

Parks Canada has said campgrounds in national parks will remain closed until at least June 21, while Alberta Parks reopened its campgrounds earlier this month, but at half capacity.

“It’s hard enough to find spots when all of the sites are available,” said Epp. “With Crown-land camping, there’s a million sites and you just pick one … and it’s free.”

Alberta Environment and Parks said its staff did see an increase in public-land use — including hikers, mountain bikers and families picnicking — in parts of southern and central Alberta on the May long weekend.

“It remains to be seen if campers that traditionally use our provincial parks will increasingly move onto public land for their fill of outdoor recreation,” spokeswoman Christine King said in an email. “Camping in provincial parks versus public land is a different experience in terms of amenities and services.”

Mounties, who patrol public land along with Alberta Fish and Wildlife officers, say they haven’t noticed a major difference in the already popular Ghost-Waiparous area near Cochrane, northwest of Calgary, but officers further to the north in Rocky Mountain House are preparing for a busier summer.

“We predict we will see an increase in the numbers of people involved in this activity this summer due to the restrictions in organized campgrounds and the out-of-province restrictions still in place,” said a statement from the detachment.

Several provinces, including British Columbia and Saskatchewan, have restricted campsite bookings to residents only.

Police remind people heading into Alberta’s random camping areas to be prepared because there are few services and not much cellphone coverage.

“People should also know how to describe where they are to emergency services if they are needed.”

Epp said random campers need more equipment than regular campers because there are no washroom facilities, no running water and no power.

“You have to be set up to be able to handle that.”

The province notes there’s also a 14-day limit on how long a camper can stay in the same spot.

The potential increase in random camping has raised some concern about the areas becoming too busy.

“We encourage people to be out and using our public land responsibly and enjoying nature,” said Katie Morrison of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. “But … it’s something that can have a heavier impact on land and water, even other users, if folks … aren’t as experienced.”

Some concerns include damage to the landscape if campers remove trees for fires or make ruts with vehicles. There’s also potential for conflicts with wildlife if campers don’t pack out their garbage or leave human waste, she said.

Morrison said many random camping areas are already busy, and she expects that will increase as the province fully or partially closes 20 provincial parks and hands off 164 others to third-party managers.

“It’s something that should be a sign to the government that removing more of these areas … is contrary to what Albertans want.”

Epp said he’s heard similar concerns from some members in his Facebook group, but he and the other moderators are doing their best to keep political debates off the page.

Instead, he said, they’re trying to teach new random campers how to be respectful on public land — even organizing some weekend trips with first-timers.

“We want to teach people the right way to do it.”

Colette Derworiz, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Camping

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Comments are closed

Just Posted

Fundraising begins to bring back Mountainview Lodge bus

The bus went out of use about two years ago, isolating many seniors in the Kitimat community.

Police investigate July 2 homicide in Houston

Man succumbed to injuries at Pearson Road residence

Water fights and food trucks: Kitimat residents celebrate Canada Day with sun and smiles

Celebrations still brought smiles and laughs, even if the day was a little different than usual

QUIZ: Put your knowledge of Canada to the test

How much do you know about our country?

B.C. accommodators need phone lines to light up as in-province travel given green light

Travel restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic have decimated the tourism and hospitality industries

300 Cache Creek residents on evacuation alert due to flood risk as river rises

Heavy rainfall on Canada Day has river rising steadily, threatening 175 properties

First glimpse of Canada’s true COVID-19 infection rate expected mid-July

At least 105,000 Canadians have tested positive for COVID-19 since the coronavirus was identified

Police ramp up efforts to get impaired drivers off B.C. roads this summer

July is dedicated to the Summer CounterAttack Impaired Driving Campaign

Migrant workers stage multi-city action for full status amid COVID-19 risks

‘COVID-19 has exacerbated an existing crisis’

Okanagan school drops ‘Rebels’ sports team name, citing links with U.S. Civil War

Name and formerly-used images “fly in the face” of the district’s human rights policy, says board chair

PHOTOS: B.C.’s top doc picks up personalized Fluevog shoes, tours mural exhibition

Murals of Gratitude exhibit includes at least one portrait of Henry alongside paintings of health-care workers

In troubled times: Independence Day in a land of confusion

Buffeted by invisible forces and just plain worn out, the United States of America celebrates its 244th birthday

Stop enforcing sex work laws during COVID-19, advocates say

There are provisions in Canada’s prostitution laws that make workers immune from prosecution, but not from arrest

Most Read