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Campers vent on fee increases

Andrew Livingstone
Northern News Services
Published Friday, January 23, 2009

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE - Territorial park officials and campers squared off Monday evening in a heated discussion over an increase in camping fees and the decision to split the 16-week camping season into two eight-week periods.

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Kevin Stevens demanded answers about changes to camping fees and the revamping of seasonal camping passes for extended-stay sites at a meeting at the Baker Centre Monday night. - Andrew Livingstone/NNSL photo

About 24 people attended the meeting at the Baker Centre Monday night, and many wondered why NWT camping fees are going up when other jurisdictions such as British Columbia offer more services at their campgrounds at a lower cost.

"I don't understand what costs $22," one angry camper said, who asked to remain anonymous due to her employment with the GNWT. "What's costing us so much money? It's like we don't have any say. The minds are made up."

Kevin Todd, Industry, Tourism and Investment's regional superintendent for the North Slave, said the department wanted to create a more balanced playing field for campers.

"If you want to stay for the whole season, why should you be paying any less than any camper who is coming in off the street and making a booking?" Todd said to jeers from audience members.

Campers who used to enter a ballot draw for one of 40 full-season sites at the Reid and Prelude campgrounds will now only be able to book site for eight-week periods at $500 - the same price campers used to pay for 16 weeks. Campers wishing to stay for the full 16-week camping season will be required to pay the cost of a daily pass for a non-powered site - $22.50, up from $15 - for the other eight weeks they didn't get under the extended-stay ballot draw. The changes took effect Jan. 1.

Richard Zieba, director of tourism and parks for ITI, said other jurisdictions have more campsites over which to spread their costs. This is harder to do in the NWT, which has a much smaller camping market.

"We have many fewer campsites to spread costs over and we have some fixed costs," Zieba said. "If we pay the contractors directly from government funds, it would reduce the funds available for maintenance and capital investments. Those fees have helped offset costs in other areas."

Zeiba said most of the contracts the GNWT has with companies to help run the parks are subsidized annually.

"There isn't enough revenue generated to cover the cost of parks," Zeiba said.

Kevin Stevens wanted to know how ITI justified such large increases in fees.

"Nowhere in any of your presentations, sir, have you shown us what the increased operational costs are to operate a park," Stevens said. "You're talking that there has been an increase but we don't see a slide anywhere to show us what the increase is based on.

"Toilet paper has not gone up that much that you need to make this increase."

Mike Bradshaw, an independent moderator who facilitated the meeting, said time will tell exactly how these changes will weigh out.

"The market will make its choice and demonstrate it through its pocketbook," Bradshaw said.

"It's the reality of economics. The government has to make a choice on where the balancing point is. When you have a small market it has to be subsidized to exist."

The only notice given to the public about the meeting was an advertisement in last Friday's Yellowknifer. Those in attendance felt the turnout was lower than it would have been had it been advertised earlier.

Zeiba said another public meeting will be scheduled in the future and advertisement will be done much earlier.