The Guardian (Charlottetown)
Long waits for Canada’s national parks reservations
Tens of thousands of Canadians spent hours upon hours trying to book some backcountry campsites in Canada’s national parks on opening day this past Friday, a process that left users frustrated by a bookings system that couldn’t handle the demand.
With the COVID-19 pandemic ongoing, camping and getting outdoors has been one of the few ways available to Canadians to get out of the lockdown or go on vacation. Last summer, retailers had shortages on outdoor products such as golf clubs and bicycles, and outdoors enthusiasts prompted a run on cross-country skis and snowshoes in winter.
But those hoping to book a backcountry campsite in the national parks in the Rockies, such as Banff, Jasper, Kootenay, and other mountain parks, have found themselves frustrated by long wait times both online and on the phone. Postmedia News, on Friday, logged onto the online booking queue in position 25,047. As of Monday morning, there were more than 14,500 people waiting online to book a campsite.
Jim Gleason, who lives in Montreal, had hoped to take his son on the Skyline Trail, one of the marquee hikes in Jasper National Park, for his first multi-day backpacking trip.
“For backpacking, you’ve got to go from A to B to C to D, and if you can’t get C, well then you’ve got to choose a whole different set of days,” said Gleason.
The website lagged considerably for Gleason, and when he’d found the dates he’d wanted, the website reset, taking him back to the beginning.
“I tried that several times. It was a very slow and frustrating process,” he said. “I did that like six, seven, eight times and never got anywhere.”
Parks Canada, writing on Facebook Friday, said there was “very high demand” for camping and they were having “some technical difficulties.”
“Thank you for your patience. We apologize for any inconvenience,” the parks service wrote.
That prompted considerable online backlash from outdoors enthusiasts about the inadequacy of the bookings setup, with many wondering why Parks Canada wasn’t better prepared for what they surely knew was going to be a busy opening day for booking campsites.
Mason Stroppa, of Victoria, B.C., said he’d never had any huge problems before booking sites, so the challenge last week was “very unexpected.” He never did get the spot he wanted, and instead figures he’ll spend his time in B.C. parks this summer.
“It was a brutal, soul-crushing marathon,” Stroppa said. “How did you not anticipate this demand?”
In a statement Tuesday, Parks Canada said it had “anticipated higher volumes this year and implemented a series of adjustments to improve service to clients.” The federal parks department said there had been 129,000 successful bookings so far.
“Traffic and reservation volumes were very high on April 16, which impacted the performance of the service,” the statement said. Some 13,000 bookings were made Friday, and Parks Canada said as of Monday and Tuesday, the reservation system was “functioning effectively.”
John Shellenberg, of St. Albert, Alta., said he did manage to get a spot, but it took 11 hours, and it wasn’t his first choice.
“I understand that overhauling the entire reservations system would be expensive, but even having staggered days — I mean, we have all of the mountain parks, all of the most popular backcountry trails pretty much in the country, all open for booking at the same moment,” he said, adding he didn’t understand the logic of that.
While the booking system has long been a source of consternation in the outdoor community, the demand for use of the parks has increased steadily in recent years, even more so because of COVID19.
Last May, CBC reported Parks Canada had revamped its booking system, and it still collapsed under the load. In 2020, 35,000 reservations were made for Banff National Park alone on opening day of bookings, 9,000 more than on opening day 2019.