A ‘good escape’: campsites packed with Islanders in family bubbles

Greater Victoria residents in search of a bit of normalcy amid the pandemic filled Goldstream Provincial Park on Saturday.

“You can kind of forget about everything for a while,” said Stuart Petillion, who was camping in the park with his girlfriend and another couple.

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Petillion, from Langford, was one of many B.C. residents who logged onto the B.C. Parks website on May 25 as soon as the reservation system opened and spent several hours trying to make a booking while the overloaded site repeatedly crashed.

Petillion’s friend, Cade Wilcox, said he hadn’t been getting out much during the past few months and it felt great to get outside and away from computer screens.

A sign at the park’s entrance said the campground was full Saturday and B.C. Park’s online reservation system showed just a handful of midweek days available in July for Goldstream’s 152 reservable campsites.

Yulenda Evans booked a site in the park before the pandemic hit, to enjoy Canada Day and a long weekend with her family and another young family in her social bubble.

Evans said it was a good escape from the city, but there are some changes this summer that reflect a new reality with COVID-19, such as staff and some campers wearing masks.

Evans said parks staff have been sanitizing picnic tables and using a leaf blower to clean campsites in between groups.

B.C. parks have seen a steady rise in reservations and visitors, according to the Ministry of Environment.

The province has previously said campsites are only available to B.C. residents. In an email, the Ministry of Environment said B.C. residents have priority for campsites and it’s asking non-residents to cancel existing reservations for a full refund.

“The rules are clear. People are encouraged to stay local and recreate close to home,” the ministry said. “We are asking everyone to exercise good judgment when it comes to when and where they recreate in the outdoors.”

New signage in campgrounds reminds visitors of the need to practise physical-distancing.

Signs posted at some backcountry outhouses remind people to bring their hand-sanitizer and gloves, and signs posted at parking lots at Juan de Fuca trailheads ask visitors to stay in their car until they’re able to maintain two metres distance from others.

The surge in camping popularity during the pandemic is boosting sales for outdoor stores in Victoria.

Gayle Robinson, an owner of Robinson’s Outdoor Store downtown, said sales in June were off the charts despite COVID-19 restrictions limiting the number of people who can be in the store at any one time.

“Camping turns out to be the industry to be in right now,” she said.

Robinson said camping, hiking and fly-fishing gear has been flying off shelves.

“Backpacks, tents, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, footwear, all the camping stuff. We might sell 17 tents in a day,” she said.

Dehydrated meals designed for use on backpacking trips have been particularly popular, although some people are using them in unexpected ways.

“We had people going in for c-sections and the husbands were coming in for dried food because once they go into the hospital they can’t leave,” Robinson said.

Mountain Equipment Co-op has often had lineups to enter the store, sometimes wrapping around the building. The store has sold out of several camping-related items at various times in the weeks since it reopened, including fuel, first-aid kits and nearly all dehydrated meals.

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com

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