Illegal camping isn’t a new problem, but it’s one that needs a fresh approach, says a Squamish resident who volunteers her time cleaning up the area’s forests.
Every day, Lisa Elbertsen and her two dogs wander along the Stawamus River. It’s a popular walk in Valleycliffe, but it’s also a hub for climbers wanting a place to pitch their tents and a home for travellers. Last year the Squamish Streamkeepers and Squamish Access Society hauled a truck box full of junk away from the area. And so far this summer Elbertsen fills a garbage bag with junk each week.
“I don’t blame them for wanting to be here. It is cheaper than paying for camping,” Elbertsen said. “A lot of them don’t have vehicles.”
However local authorities — including the District of Squamish, B.C. Parks and the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations — decide to tackle the issue, officials need to understand it can’t be stopped, Elbertsen said.
Garbage containers and washroom facilities could be the first step in addressing the ongoing issue, she said.
“We need to figure out a way to make this work,” Elbertsen said.
The solution lies in more affordable camping, said Jeremy Smith, president of the Squamish Access Society. Stawamus Chief Provincial Park charges $10 per person rather than per campsite. For a community that’s dubbed “Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada,” there aren’t enough sites close to recreation areas to accommodate Squamish’s visitors, he said.
Access society members have suggested that the province or the district create cheaper overflow camping. But the idea has gone nowhere, Smith said.
In 2000, illegal camping reached a high point along the Mamquam River. The municipality placed a portable toilet onsite, which further exacerbated the population, Smith said. When the area was eventually cleared, approximately 100 people called it home.
The land on the south side of the Stawamus River is a mishmash of district property and Crown land, making it a jurisdictional nightmare, said Rod MacLeod, the municipality’s director of engineering. The district recognizes a need for more “authorized” camping and is exploring options, he said.
Placing garbage and recycling containers in the area was contemplated, but there’s a fear that such a service would encourage dumping, MacLeod said.
In 2012-’13, the Stawamus Chief provincial campground saw approximately 260,000 visitors, most of them climbers, a Ministry of Environment spokesperson stated in an email to The Chief. The maximum length of stay at the campground is 14 days.
“The campground does reach capacity on summer weekends. Several new campsites were added in recent years to accommodate additional camping groups,” the ministry spokesperson wrote.
Parking outside the grounds seems to occur whether the campground is full or not, a ministry official wrote.
Elbertsen is organizing a Stawamus River cleanup on Saturday, Sept. 21. Further details will be posted on Squamish Speaks on Facebook.