Yukon’s needless campground war of all against all

It's time to end the madness.

Camping season is upon us again. And in the leadup to the May long weekend I wanted to take my three-year-old son out to one of our favourite Yukon Campgrounds at Kusawa Lake. I suspected that media coverage of proposed changes to the rules regarding vacant sites might spook the campground-going public this year so I wanted to be on top of my game and make sure that I arrived early enough to occupy a spot.

Knowing that Kusawa would be opening for the season on the Friday preceding Victoria Day I called Yukon Campgrounds to inquire as to the precise time that they would be opening the gates so my hour-plus drive out with an impatient and restless preschooler wouldn’t be followed by a tearful drive of an equal length in the opposite direction. The person I spoke to on the phone was vague, informing me that they had been telling people that they would be open “in the morning.” She cautioned me that the first loop (which had already opened) was already full and that she had heard that people had been crossing over the gate at loops two and three to place various items to lay claim to the sites.

Worried about the prospect of going out there only to find a full campground I discussed this information with a friend who would be spending the weekend with us. We decided that it would be best for me to take the day off and take a shot at it. It was our only hope.

So we packed up and headed out, arriving at Kusawa just before 11 a.m. on Friday morning to find that all but three spots in the entire campground (of 53 sites) were already being occupied or ostensibly reserved by tents, trailers and, for those who like to live dangerously, some camping chairs. A couple who arrived immediately after us snagged one of the two remaining sites leaving only one open in the entire campground.

Before noon.

On the day the campground opened.

The weather wasn’t even that nice.

I must reiterate the sentiment I expressed in a previous column: This is a silly problem to have in a territory with trees, mountains and lakes for hundreds of kilometres in every direction. Simply securing a camping spot after a work week in Canada’s “True North” should not be a stress inducing hours-long gamble that requires taking a day off work.

The people who hold our camping fate in their hands in our territorial government don’t appear to see expanding capacity as a priority — stating that they are focusing on improving infrastructure and expanding accessibility. At best they are looking at reducing the amount of time that one can leave a campsite vacant from 72 hours to 24 hours which does nothing to alleviate the weekend crunch.

The problem, as any Yukoner who frequent campgrounds near to Whitehorse knows, is that “back up plans” are difficult to make. If you can’t land a spot at Kusawa or the Takhini River Campground you are looking at a long drive down the road to Aishihik, or similar uncertain chances at the quick-to-fill Pine Lake campground. After that you’re heading past Haines Junction.

And this all presents significant logistical problems (since cell service doesn’t extending far beyond municipal boundaries) in coordinating with friends and family who are camping with you, not to mention the sunk costs of time and gas heading down long gravel roads.

Yukon Campgrounds made a point of noting that the Yukon has 1,000 campsites at 42 different campsites, encouraging residents of the capital to travel further afield to improve their chances. That’s great and all but the reality is that those sites are spread across a territory that is larger than Germany with over 60 per cent of its population centred in Whitehorse. Our summers are short, time is precious and there is a mere 50 hours between close of business Friday and the commencement of work on Monday.

I appreciate the frustration of those who drive over 100 kilometers from home only to find spots being occupied by an unattended trailer or, worse, a Canadian Tire camping chair. But the principle of first come, first serve — which many seem to feel epitomizes fairness and equity — works against those without the workplace flexibility some of us have. Reservations present their own challenges and I don’t think many of us want to go there. Real time information about available spots would be nice but I can appreciate the logistical problems implementing such a system would pose in our remove territory.

A campsite is little more than a few dump truck loads of gravel, a picnic table, and a metal cylinder to contain a campfire. If the million-dollar-a-bed Whistle Bend Continuing Care facility has taught us anything it is that the Yukon government can find a way for that kind of infrastructure to cost more than a brand new Ferrari. But I’d be curious to know what is holding the Yukon government back from building more campsites.

I’m ready to give up and buy a cabin if I can find one. There aren’t many of those either. But that’s a column for another time.

Kyle Carruthers is a born-and-raised Yukoner who lives and practises law in Whitehorse.

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