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N.S. and N.B. provincial parks see more local campers

A campsite set up at Laurie Provincial Park in Nova Scotia.
A campsite set up at Laurie Provincial Park in Nova Scotia. Alicia Draus / Global News Halifax

Travel restrictions have interrupted many summer getaway plans, meaning more Maritimers than ever are choosing staycations this summer — and camping has become a popular activity.

In a typical year in Nova Scotia, just over half of all campsite reservations come from Nova Scotians; the rest come mainly from Canadians in other provinces and Americans from the nearby states, with a few campsites gaining popularity among German tourists.

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But due to COVID-19, this year is different. There isn’t any international travel, and due to public health restrictions, campgrounds are only being made available to residents of Atlantic Canada.

It’s something Nova Scotians are taking advantage of.

In July, provincial campgrounds saw about 62 per cent capacity, up one per cent from 2019.

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But the big difference was in who is camping.

“In July, 98 per cent of of our campers were Nova Scotians, compared to last year, where 58 per cent were Nova Scotians,” said Sandra Fraser, a parks promotion and development officer.

“It’s great to see Nova Scotians are rediscovering their parks, or discovering provincial parks for the first time.”

New Brunswick is experiencing something similar. In a typical year, provincial parks in the northern part of that province are largely visited by people from Quebec and Ontario, while some of the southern parks get a lot of American tourists. Without those tourists, total camp bookings are down about 20 per cent so far this year, but reservations from New Brunswickers are up 30 per cent.

“What is exciting also is we’re seeing probably new campers, people who haven’t camped over the years,” said Allen Bard, director of parks in New Brunswick.

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The province has changed its marketing campaign to focus on attracting more locals this year and Bard says it’s working, with over 7,000 more New Brunswickers checking out the provincial parks this year than last.

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“COVID-19 I think really helped show people there are nice and beautiful things in the province and they’re enjoying those things right now.”

Both provinces are expecting the trend to continue through August, but there is hope that this year will help attract more regulars in future years.

“We’ve been doing lost of infrastructure improvements to our washroom facilities, and look at ways to make our facilities more accessible and we’re hoping those types of improvements will keep people coming back,” said Fraser.