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'It's tradition': Campers flock to provincial parks for long weekend

'It really kicks off the summer,' camper says of Victoria Day long weekend

Campers are flocking to local parks for the Victoria Day long weekend, the unofficial kick-off to summer.

Scott Thomas, superintendent for Bass Lake, Mara, McRae Point, Springwater and Carden Alvar provincial parks, says all available campsites and facilities at Bass Lake Provincial Park are reserved for the weekend, and many of those reservations were made five months ago.

Thomas says the demand for camping at Ontario parks has been rising in recent years.

"Many weekends are completely full, but there are still many campsites available for reservations over the summer months," he said, noting most availability is during weekdays.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, the Victoria Day long weekend would be busy for park wardens. The annual rowdy party atmosphere resulted in the Ontario government banning alcohol in provincial parks during the May long weekend in 2005. Although the ban has since been lifted, Thomas reminds visitors to be aware of camping etiquette, which involves being considerate of other visitors.

"We focus on respectful behaviour and being mindful of other park visitors and the natural environment," he said.

Last year, the invasive emerald ash borer wreaked havoc on Mara and McRae Point provincial parks. About 10,000 trees were affected.

"Ontario Parks worked with a contractor this winter to mitigate the risks," Thomas said. "We managed the situation before it became a significant risk to the public and the environment."

The infected trees were removed before they could present a hazard to the more than 300 campsites and two day-use areas of Mara and McRae Point.

"The removal of the white ash trees that would present hazards in the future created a dramatic change in the park's forest composition," Thomas said. "It changed the look and feel of many of the parks' campsites and day-use areas."

Thomas says he's optimistic the remaining forest will rebound and provide the safe and pleasant camping and day-use environment the parks have provided for decades.

"The team here worked extremely hard to ensure that the parks are open this spring, and only a handful of campsites remain closed for repair, and even those will be ready for camping prior to summer," he said. "We have replanted over 400 trees this spring, and that effort will continue in concert with the natural regeneration we monitor and manage."

Now that the emerald ash borer-infected white ash is removed, there is no threat to the future of the two parks.

"Even though we’ve had to remove some trees, campers can expect what they have always enjoyed — clean campsites and facilities surrounded by nature," Thomas said. "Day users can expect clean beaches, water, trails, and picnic areas. In both cases, reservations are available and offer great certainty to ensure they’ll be able to enjoy the parks for the day or overnight."

New to most Bass Lake campers this year are roofed accommodations, which were introduced in 2023. The park has added five soft-sided tents with log bunk beds, a dining area and a barbecue.

"Visitors are really appreciating these new facilities," Thomas said. "People value opportunities for safe, outdoor recreation and we are here to provide service excellence."

Dan and Glenna Rivett, from the Smiths Falls area, celebrate every Victoria Day long weekend by camping with friends.

"This is the only time we camp all year," Dan said.

"It's tradition," Glenna added.

May is the best month to pitch a tent in a provincial park for a weekend, Dan says.

"Everything is just kind of starting," he said.

"It really kicks off the summer," Glenna added.

Spending time outdoors with friends is a highlight of the year for the Rivetts.

"We like hiking," Glenna said. "We also like to get out in a canoe sometimes."

This is the first time the Rivetts have camped at Bass Lake.

"From going back and forth from Port Elgin, we've always driven past but on the other side of the lake," Dan said. "We've always said that we wanted to come here." 

So far, they have been impressed with their stay in the area.

"We've been places where the mosquitoes are very bad," Dan said. "I haven't put any bug spray on since getting here last night."

Nil and Christine Lavallee, of Peterborough, are staying at Bass Lake this weekend while their grandkids compete in races at Hardwood Ski and Bike.

"It's cheaper than staying in a hotel," Nil said.

"If we have the choice between staying in a hotel and camping, we will always camp," Christine added.

They enjoy hiking, bike riding, and sitting by the fire while camping. They agree with the Rivetts that May is the best month to camp.

"We normally stay close to home in July and August because it gets so busy," Nil said.

"There are no bugs right now. That's a big thing," Christine added.

The Lavallees have camped at Bass Lake a few times.

"The lake is beautiful," Nil said.

"The sites are really big and private," Christine added.


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Tyler Evans

About the Author: Tyler Evans

Tyler Evans got his start in the news business when he was just 15-years-old and now serves as a video producer and reporter with OrilliaMatters
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