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Campers moving to backwoods to get around closures

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Just because provincial and forestry campgrounds have been closed due to COVID-19, that hasn’t stopped campers from finding places to set up tents and, in some cases, party far into the night.

“We have seen quite a bit just in random spots along the road on the way up,” Nick Scott, operator of Oyama Lake Eco Lodge, told May 13.

The resort has a forestry campground next door that, for the most part, has been avoided by campers. Scott suspects they fear being fined if caught there so most find other places to camp, often along forest service or other backcountry roads.

But, not everyone is avoiding the official sites, one of which is right next to his resort.

“There’s quite a few over there now,” Scott said. “Last night there was a bunch from Whistler. There must have been four or five vehicles worth of people whooping and hollering.

There’s a flat area lower down the road where people unload dirt bikes. That’s now often being used for camping, along with what’s call the lookout – a rock cliff overlooking the Okanagan valley.

“On Saturday nights, you can see half a dozen vehicles there, on occasion,” Scott said. “They usually leave a mess. They burn pallets and couches. We’ve see more and more (campers) on the road. For the first time we saw someone bring an RV up the road and they just ditched it and then it was burnt, eventually.”

On the other side of the valley, Headwaters Family Camp co-owner Vicki Smith is worried about the weekend ahead.

She decided not open until June 1. Normally the camp is open year round.

While she’s only seen a few roadside campsites, she’s had lots of calls from disappointed campers who wonder if the forests will be patrolled this weekend. She suspects conservation officers and forestry staff will be out in force to make sure people, at the least, are not staying overnight in the numerous forestry campgrounds around the Headwaters Lakes chain.

For its part, the Ministry of Forests would not comment on the camping situation during COVID-19 or provide anyone for an interview.

“People who camp on Crown land (outside of Recreation Sites campgrounds) must do so in a safe and responsible manner and cannot stay for longer than 14 days,” the Ministry said in an email. “Their activities may result in negative environmental, social, economic, health or safety impacts. All personal belongings and garbage must be removed or disposed of appropriately when the campers leave the site.”

Kane Blake, who is with the group Okanagan Forest Task Force that regularly cleans up garbage in the bush, has noticed a significant increase in camping in open areas, particularly along Postill Lake and Beaver Lake roads.

“There’s people camping right on the side of the road,” he said. “There’s always vehicles and there are tents and you can hear people partying. It’s not stopping people from having bush parties either.”

He hasn’t checked out the actual forestry campgrounds and said the bush parties are usually no more than 15 people.

One night when high winds were predicted, he put out two abandoned campfires.

“There were no cars to be seen around,” he said. “Everyone had left. Why are these campfires still going? All I could envision is all these hot embers blowing through the bush.”

Sherri Smith, co-owner of Dee Lake Wilderness Resort, further up Beaver Lake Road, said people are not camping in the forestry sites.

“People are always littering and throwing garbage but they’re also having campfires, which is not allowed,” she said, before the campfire ban was lifted today. “They’re having roaring campfires and they are going unchecked.”

Her caretaker did file one complaint with the RCMP but she did not know the details or the outcome.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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