The Saskatchewan government on Tuesday announced a range of fee hikes at provincial parks to cover enhanced operating costs.
© Herald photo by Matt Gardner
Sleeping bags and other camping equipment line the shelves at Fresh Air Experience. The provincial government on Tuesday announced a range of fee hikes at provincial parks.
Nightly rates for electric and full-service camping stalls have increased from $22 and $26 per night, respectively, to $27 and $35 per night. The nightly rate for non-electric stalls will remain unchanged at $17.
Seasonal camping rates have also increased. The seasonal rate for electric stalls has increased from $1,500 to $1,900, while the price of non-electric stalls will see a jump from $760 to $950.
In addition, swimming lesson fees will increase from $25 to $35.
Minister of Parks, Culture and Sport Kevin Doherty said that the changes marked the parks’ first fee adjustment in five years.
Since 2007, operating costs for the provincial parks have increased by 42 per cent.
The new fee changes, Doherty said, reflected those increased costs, which stem from a range of enhancements made by the government as part of its four-year, $44-million effort to improve the provincial parks.
That figure includes more than $7 million spent since 2007 on electrification of almost 1,400 campsites.
“We’ve invested millions of dollars into the infrastructure in our provincial parks throughout the province -- that being electrifying camp sites, building new service centres which are the bathrooms and the showers in our provincial parks, enhancing boat launches, creating new boat launches, building new picnic areas and barbecue areas and those kinds of things,” Doherty said.
He described the government’s park investments as reflecting pent-up demand for such enhancements, as seen in surveys of provincial park users.
“When we came to office in 2007, we were having difficulty attracting people to our provincial parks,” Doherty said. “Many were going to regional parks, many were going outside the province. They didn’t feel that it was value for money in going to our parks with dilapidated infrastructure.”
“Our premier is a big believer in quality of life, particularly through camping here in the province. He’s a big camper himself with his family, and so our premier and our government made the commitment that we would invest in provincial parks. That’s exactly what we’ve done.”
Historically, Doherty noted, the Saskatchewan government has strived to achieve a balance in which 60 per cent of park costs are borne by park users themselves and 40 per cent by provincial taxpayers.
Aside from returning to that 60-40 balance, the fee changes were calculated to keep Saskatchewan’s parks competitive with those in neighbouring provinces.
We’ve invested millions of dollars into the infrastructure in our provincial parks throughout the province. Kevin Doherty
“We’re equivalent to Manitoba now on a nightly electric stall -- although they charge for firewood, we don’t,” Doherty said.
“We’re slightly cheaper or less expensive than Alberta for the equivalent type of stall. So we think it’s still a good value for money for a family to go out and enjoy one of our 35 provincial parks and stay right here in the province and enjoy a camping experience.”
Fresh Air Experience manager Mike Horn said fee changes at provincial parks were not unexpected in the face of rising operating costs.
“You can’t expect to pay the same price forever if the cost of everything’s going up … If you're expecting to go to a park and get services at that park and the cost of those services is going up, well, then you have to pay more,” he said.
While Fresh Air Experience sells camping equipment, its inventory is targeted more at campers embarking on backpacking and canoe trips.
By comparison, the recent fee changes are most noticeable at electric camping stalls, which tend to cater to the RV and trailer crowd rather than those camping out in tents.
In any case, Horn said, slightly higher fees should not dissuade people from camping and experiencing the great outdoors.
“It gets people maybe away from the electronics a little bit and you have that family bonding moment over a weekend or a week of camping … It’s a pretty cool experience and everyone should experience it … and I don’t think a $5 difference will maybe affect that,” Horn said. “I hope it doesn’t.”
Aside from the fee changes, the government also announced on Tuesday that the 2014 camping season would be the third year that nightly campers would be able to book sites online using SaskParks’ Reserve-A-Site system or through the reservation call centre.
The online system will open on March 3, with specific park reservation opening dates staggered throughout the week. Details are available at www.saskparks.net.
Seasonal camping applications for the May-September period are also available at the same website, with the deadline for applications set for Thursday, Jan. 30.
Seasonal sites are allocated through a lottery system and will be awarded on Monday, Feb. 3.