Saskatchewan residents are planning to take in some nature this summer as camping returns almost to normal.
The provincial government recently announced campsites could open to 100 per cent capacity. Playgrounds have since opened, pools are opening and shower facilities can now operate with extended cleaning.
Reservations for provincial parks are coming in heavy, Robin Campese, the visitor experience executive director with Saskatchewan Parks, said. She said they have had 7,000 reservations since last week.
“They’re hitting the site and looking to get those camping plans made for this summer,” she said.
Group sites and ‘Camp-easy’ sites are also reopening for the summer. Camp-easy sites can be booked starting on July 9.
“I think Camp-easy will probably see a lot of uptake and we’re hoping it’s that first time camper that maybe has never come out to the park and wants to get a feel for camping,” Campese said.
People are still asked to bring their own wipes, table clothes, and hand sanitizer when camping. Pools in provincial parks will open July 1, and the new pool in Buffalo Pound Provincial Park is expected to open mid-July.
“We’re really happy that we can be that place for Saskatchewan people this summer that can come, maybe rehabilitate a little bit after the stress of the last few months and connect with nature and their family,” she said.
The phone has been ringing non-stop for Kathy Bergen, one of the office managers at Manitou & District Regional Park.
“A lot of people now — I think — they felt safe enough that they could actually go camping,” Bergen said. “So the calls have been steady, but I must say we operate at 100 per cent generally in July and we won’t be there, I don’t think, for this July.”
Manitou’s campsites will open July 6 with enhanced cleaning. Bergen said she thinks people are excited to get back out.
“It’s a huge thing for Saskatchewan people, they love their parks. They love taking out there in the summer,” she said. “Most people have been just so understanding … but you definitely are exhausted at the end of the day.”
Bergen is asking people to not arrive before their check in time of 2 p.m. so staff can properly clean the sites.
At Prince Albert National Park, staff are working to get people into the park and help new backcountry campers this year.
Monica Osterhout, the visitor experience manager for the Northern Prairies Field Unit, said camping reservations for 100 per cent capacity at the park will open July 8.
Osterhout said they are recommending people carefully follow the provincial health guidelines and proper physically distancing.
“I know a lot of people come to the lake to meet family and friends and that’s really important. But we just want to remind people to implement safe distancing, effective hygiene and stay home if they’re not feeling well,” Osterhout said.
For campers wanting to be physically distant from everyone, backcountry camping may be an option. Osterhout said it’s important for a person to do their research and be prepared.
“Ensure that they have the proper camping equipment, food and water for the length of their stay, even for 24 or 48 hours maybe longer than they think they’re going to be here just in case something crops up,” Osterhout said. “It’s important to make sure that they’re self-sufficient.”
Backcountry campers can register at the visitor centre in the national park before heading out into their site. Osterhout said it’s also important to be prepared for mosquitos and changes in weather.
“There’s been quite a bit of black bear activity in the park. So campers going into the backcountry — and even in the frontcountry — just need to make sure that they’re aware that there are bears in the park,” she said.
Campers should keep food stored properly in provided food caches and leave the site as clean as when they arrive. People should also have bear bells and bear spray on hand.
Honour system in place as only Sask. residents allowed to book
Only Saskatchewan residents are allowed book in provincial parks. Campese said they are communicating this through social media and that people have to declare they are a Saskatchewan resident when registering a campsite.
Campese admitted the honour system is part of it.
“It’s hard to deter everybody but we do know we’re having an impact there because our occupancy levels at our border parks are quite low compared to what they would normally be,” Campese said. “So people are respecting that they’re staying away.”
If people are camping and have concerns about out-of-province guests, Campese suggests keeping physically distant and, if needed, raising their concerns at the park’s visitor centre.