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Where have the tents gone?

Toronto Star
Opinion Editorial
Wednesday August 4, 2004

Recreational vehicles, some as hugs as buses, are now the dominant feature of any campground in southern Ontario.

When I go camping, I pitch a tent. Traditionally, camping always meant
sleeping in a tent, leaving behind all the gizmos of daily life, and making
due with only the bare essentials for a few days. Not anymore. Increasingly our provincial parks are accommodating an aging baby boom generation that has money to burn.

Recreational vehicles, also commonly referred to as RV trailers, are now the dominant feature in any campground in southern Ontario. Some of the trailers are so large they resemble rock and roll tour buses more so than any sort of camping equipment. They're so big that once I saw a trailer towing its own car.

To accommodate this trend, Ontario Parks has cleared trees, widened roads and installed electricity to campsites. Pitching a tent among these
vehicles has definitely changed the camping experience for the simple tent dweller. A scenic view of the trees has now been replaced with a face to face encounter with metre high rig tires. Sitting on the ground or at a
picnic table cooking dinner on a campfire as become a rare occurrence.  No reason to light a campfire if you can cook your dinner on a stove.

The nature trails offer no quiet escape for the traditional camper either.
Hiking is out, too slow for the baby boomers. Instead, the family bicycles
are unloaded from the rear of the RV trailer and used as local transportation for all points within the park including the trails.

So when do any of these people actually enjoy what nature has to offer?
They don't because nature is no longer part of our provincial parks.
Already stressed from years of budget cuts, Dalton McGuinty slashed, yet
again, the budget of Ontario Parks by 8 million dollars this spring.
Without proper funding, Ontario Parks will continue to redefine the role of
our provincial parks from biological reserves to amusement and trailer parks as a way to generate revenue.

Presqu'ile Provincial Park on Lake Ontario is considered a North American
Important Bird Area but that didn't stop Ontario Parks from clearing the
shoreline to accommodate trailer camping. Inverhuron, one of the smallest parks and located on the shores of Lake Huron, is currently having its trees cut, roads built, electrical wires and pumping stations installed to make room for the big rigs.

Pulling up to a campsite in your car to pitch a tent has its environmental
drawbacks too, but the monster trailers are worse. Not only are they an
eye sore, they consume an exorbitant amount of space that subsequently
requires more land being cleared and wider roads. They plug in and disturb the darkness, an important quality to traditional campers. This in turn impacts on wildlife by causing a greater disturbance.

But most of all, it is a blatant reminder just how cumbersome we have
become, dragging all our worldly possessions everywhere we go. Can we not have a relaxing vacation without the bikes, the lawn chairs, the radio, the gas stove, the potable TV, and the patio lights?

Trailer parks are common in the United States. A wary traveller doesn't
have to search far to find a place to park for the night, but these places
are not commonly state or national parks but rather privately owned. To
accommodate people who want to visit provincial parks and sleep outdoors but not on the ground, alternatives exist. Ontario Parks could offer larger tents that have built-in bunks but no electricity or running water. This would be a gentler way to accommodate our aging baby boomers without causing too much damage to the natural environment.

Instead the growing trend to accommodate RV trailers in our provincial parks is worrisome, not only because it pushes out traditional campers, but is also a signal that our parks are not being managed for the preservation of nature.

AnnaMaria Valastro is co-director of the Peaceful Parks Coalition, which champions Ontario’s environment and protected areas.


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