Environment Minister Pauline Frost announces the Yukon government’s new 10-year parks strategy at a press conference at the Wolf Creek Campground on Sept. 24. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Higher camping fees, new campground, reconciliation efforts feature in Yukon parks 10-year strategy

Creating a new campground within two hours of Whitehorse, introducing higher camping fees in 2022 and establishing several new parks are among the key goals in the Yukon government’s new 10-year parks strategy.

Environment Minister Pauline Frost announced the release of the strategy at a press conference at the Wolf Creek Campground on Sept. 24.

The 32-page document outlines 10 priorities that will carry the Yukon’s parks into 2030, including developing a parks system plan, advancing reconciliation, modernizing regulations and financially sustaining parks. Those are further broken down into 24 actions ranging from creating new trails in territorial parks to repairing boat launches and partnering with Indigenous guardians.

“By investing in Yukon’s parks and campgrounds, we are supporting Yukoners to stay active and get out on the land as well as supporting our important tourism sector,” Frost said.

“Parks and campgrounds are one of Yukon’s best assets and are beloved by Yukoners and of course many visitors as we’ve seen this year… This is especially important and apparent this year as more Yukoners are getting out and camping and taking more staycations in wake of COVID-19.”

The government finalized the strategy after hearing from more than 1,500 Yukoners, 200 non-residents, 10 Yukon First Nations governments and 28 organizations, an amount of feedback which Frost said indicated “the passion Yukoners have for parks and wilderness.”

Some of the key challenges and opportunities the Yukon parks system will face in the next decade, according to the strategy, are increased use, the fact that the system is still “young and growing,” reconciliation, biodiversity and climate change.

Among the planned actions to address increased use is adding campsites to existing campground as well as creating a whole new campground within a two-hour drive of Whitehorse that could have up to 150 sites (according to the strategy, Yukon Parks is estimating demand for about 800 additional campsites in the Whitehorse area by 2030).

Officials are currently scouting locations for the new campground, Yukon Parks director Mike Etches said at the press conference, and hope to have it up and running within five years. Yukon Parks will also be piloting an online campsite reservation system, which Etches said would likely be trialed at the new campground first.

Campground users can also expect to start paying more beginning in 2022 — a night at a “front country” campsite will cost $20 (or $18 if campers take advantage of a new prepayment option), up from $12. The cost of an annual camping permit will also double that year, from $50 to $100, before rising to $200 in 2023, and the cost of backcountry camping will be $20 per tent pad per night, plus a $10 reservation.

As well, the Yukon government will be doing away with free camping for seniors, instead offering them a 50 per cent discount on fees, and introducing a $40 application fee for park-use permits.

The strategy notes that currently, the Yukon government recovers 10.6 per cent of costs from operating the parks systems through camping fees; with the increased fees, the recovery figure will rise to about 20 per cent.

“These will help to ensure that we can (continue) to offer world-class experiences in our parks and campgrounds while increasing services,” Frost said, adding that the Yukon has “some of the lowest camping fees in Canada.”

Longer-term, the Yukon government will be looking at modernizing parks-related regulations that have remained largely untouched for 20 years. The strategy describes current campground regulations as “outdated” and regulations to manage wilderness parks and activities outside of campgrounds as “largely absent.”

Reconciliation efforts also feature into long-term goals and include developing a “collaborative park management framework” with Yukon First Nations and Inuvialuit, whose settlement region includes part of northern Yukon, launching Indigenous guardian programs and exploring the possibility of Indigenous protected and conserved areas in the territory.

The full Yukon Parks Strategy document is available online at yukon.ca/en/yukon-parks-strategy

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com