Ontarians eager to set up camp

File photo courtesy of © Can Stock Photo / flashon

The wait is over for outdoor enthusiasts hoping to camp under the stars this summer.

The province moved into the first phase of its Roadmap to Reopen at 12:01 a.m. Friday, which allows overnight camping at sites, including Ontario Parks.

In anticipation of a busy day, Pinery Provincial Park is allowing for check-ins to start as early as 9 a.m. However, after Friday, check-ins will move back to 2 p.m.

“Before visiting our park, we recommend that campers visit our website for the most up-to-date COVID-19 guidelines,” said Discovery Leader Megan Loucks.

Some restrictions will remain in place past June 11. For example, Loucks said rentals will not be available but icons on the Pinery’s website will specify what is open and closed.

For those looking to visit the park for one day, the Pinery is one of 17 provincial parks participating in a pilot program this summer where day visits can be reserved up to five days in advance.

“We recommend that all day-trippers reserve their daily vehicle permit ahead of their visit to Pinery to guarantee their spot at the park and to avoid disappointment when the park reaches capacity which is something that happens often,” she said.

Pinery Provincial Park entrance in Grand Bend. August 7, 2018. (Photo by Colin Gowdy, BlackburnNews)

Pinery Provincial Park entrance in Grand Bend. August 7, 2018. 

Loucks said typically the Pinery could have up to 900 visitors for day-use during the summer, depending on parking availability.

The park is open year-round and Loucks said although most campsites are booked for the summer, there could be cancellations.

“There are still dates in the Fall [that are] available for booking, especially on weekdays,” she said. “You can book five months in advance to the day that you are hoping to book.”

The pandemic has sparked a lot of interest in the outdoors as Ontario Parks has received over 440,000 reservations for 2021. Loucks said bookings this year mark a 140 per cent increase from the same time in 2020.

Meantime, St. Clair Region Conservation Authority (SCRCA) said A.W. Campbell, Lorne C. Henderson, and Warwick Conservation Areas will open for overnight camping on Monday, June 14.

Manager of Conservation Areas Greg Wilcox said bookings are pretty full right up until the end of summer.

“At this point, we have not extended our camping season. We did change our dates for 2021 to go a week beyond Thanksgiving which is new for SCRCA so we have a week later season than we have in the past,” he said.

Campers will be asked to adhere to remaining provincial COVID-19 restrictions, which include the use of face masks in washrooms and limited outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people.

“We are still closing approximately 50 per cent of our transient camping sites — so every other site — to improve spacing and allow a little more room between campers,” he said.

Wilcox also said campers will have to supply their own recreational equipment this year as canoes and kayaks will not be available to rent. However, public pools will be open at the SCRCA’s three campsites.

“Our pools are expected to open at this point in late June,” said Wilcox. “They will be at significantly reduced capacities to meet public health guidelines.”

Daily sign-up sheets for the pool will be posted every morning and contact information will be collected.