Wet conditions make for unhappy campers
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Unhappy campers are grappling with the reality that flooding and wet conditions have affected more than 25 provincial parks in recent weeks, with many popular trails and tenting spots off-limits indefinitely.
So far this spring, Manitoba Parks has cancelled roughly 3,000 reservations due to campsite closures. Yurts, backcountry sites and everything in between have been affected.
“You hate to see an expensive (RV) sitting in the driveway, not going anywhere,” said Stacey Breton, an avid camper from Beausejour.
Breton typically goes on upwards of a half-dozen overnight trips to provincial parks with her husband and two daughters during the summertime. They set up bonfires, make s’mores, swim and go on nature walks together.
“It’s time to get out with our family and the kids. It takes us away from work and lets us stop thinking about all of life’s troubles at home. It’s relaxing for us,” she said.
The mother of two has honed her booking routine over the years to secure spots at her family’s favourite sites, including Whiteshell Provincial Park’s Nutimik Lake and Opapiskaw campgrounds. She set her alarm for 6:30 a.m. on designated booking days this year and furiously refreshed the booking webpage as the clock struck 7 a.m.
Much to her frustration, two of her reservations at Nutimik have been cancelled and the current state of Opapiskaw (recent photos of the area show a non-existent beach that is fully underwater) makes her skeptical they will get the chance to visit in 2022.
Three weeks ago, the province declared a state of local emergency within the Whiteshell due to rapidly rising water levels in the Winnipeg River basin.
Winnipeg recorded the second-wettest meteorological spring this year, with a total of 299.2 millimetres of precipitation between March 1 and May 31. In 1896, 325.4 mm was measured.
Environment and Climate Change Canada meteorologist Alysa Pederson said typical spring precipitation is around 110 mm, so the moisture measured around the Red River Valley this year was “pretty unprecedented.”
“We had constant storm after storm after storm,” Pederseon said, noting many areas across Manitoba received roughly 200 per cent more precipitation than usual.
A government spokesperson confirmed that flooding and wet conditions across the province, owing to consistent Colorado lows over the last few months and a late arrival of spring, have resulted in an estimated 3,000 reservation cancellations.
Closures will start to lift as conditions continue to improve, the spokesperson said via email, adding officials are hopeful that most areas will be able to open in time for Canada Day.
Daytime visitors and campers are still barred from Whiteshell, but Provincial Road 307 recently reopened to local traffic and business in an initial reopening phase. Cottage and homeowners can also now return to Sylvia Lake, Eleanor Lake, Dorothy Lake, Nutimik Lake, Barrier Bay and Otter Falls, as water recedes.
Wildfire smoke prevented Manitobans from spending time outdoors in 2021 and this year, all of the standing water will help mosquitoes breed so clouds of insects will keep people inside, said Mira Oberman, director of communications and public programs at the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society’s Manitoba chapter.
“It’s really deeply heartbreaking for a lot of people who find solace and peace and fun in nature. These are beloved family memories that are not being created because we can’t take our kids camping,” she said.
Oberman said her organization is hopeful the province will acknowledge how critical parks are for residents’ physical and mental health by investing in the expansion of available campsites in the future so there are more spots available when flooding and wildfires occur.
It remains too early to determine what revenue losses could be due to campsite closures in 2022, per the province.
While Manitoba Parks has refunded some reservations, some people have chosen to switch sites to locations that remain open for visitors.
“Most years we have to deal with campsite closures in one form or another. While this year it’s from wet conditions, the last few years we’ve had site closures and cancellations due to wildfires. We’ve also had group site closures in the last two years from the pandemic,” a spokesperson wrote.
Since her family’s favourite sites remain inaccessible, Breton has been busy refreshing the Manitoba Parks website in an effort to scoop up other peoples’ cancellations in parts of the province unaffected by the wet weather.
“It is what it is,” she said, when reached by phone at a campsite in Winnipeg Beach on Sunday.
“We’ll just have to wait for everything to clear up and hopefully, we’ll still have a decent summer.”