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Bowen Island looks to clarify local camping rules

Clarification from the province shows there's only one place campers can legally set up on Bowen
One of the tent pad campsites at Apodaca Park being used in mid-May.

The municipality is making efforts to clear up what the official status of camping is on the island.

Currently the only allowable camping area on Bowen is at Apodaca Provincial Park on the island’s east coast. Four tent pads were recently completed at the remote site, which is meant to be accessed by marine travel only such as kayaks or canoes. The campground links Bowen Island to the Sea to Sky Marine Trail, which is maintained by BC Parks and Recreations Sites and Trails BC.

And, while it continues to generate much debate, the potential 100 campsites at the proposed Metro Vancouver Park at Cape Roger Curtis are likely several years from becoming a reality, and still have many hurdles to overcome. There’s no camping currently allowed on the 97-hectare space, and Metro Vancouver has erected a roadblock to keep would-be travellers out of the waterfront areas of their new purchase.

Camping isn’t permitted anywhere on municipal land, but differing views have long existed regarding camping on Crown land, which is owned by the provincial government. Bowen has plenty of this land spread across the island, perhaps most noticeably Mount Gardner, and it has long attracted campers and claims that camping on Crown land is legal.

But it now seems there is a more definitive answer to the question of whether you can pitch a tent there.

“Camping is not allowed on Bowen Island, including Crown land,” said chief administrative officer Liam Edwards during Bowen's June 12 council meeting. He went on to explain, “Just to be explicitly clear, staff have confirmed with the province that the provincial land use policy for use of Crown land does not apply to municipal Crown land – Crown land that’s wholly within municipal boundary. Because of that clarification, and since camping is not an allowable use in our land use bylaw, it’s therefore not allowed on Bowen,” says Edwards.

No camping rules often prove difficult to enforce

But while that may be the case on paper, the reality of enforcing Bowen’s no camping rules are another matter. Edwards says this is partly due to the lack of a clear bylaw regarding camping on Crown land. “In the courts it would be better if we had a bylaw that was really explicit about no camping on municipal Crown land. Without any clear definition about that in our bylaws, and without any bylaws that speak to enforcement and fining and such, that becomes even more difficult to enforce at this point in time,” said Edwards.

The CAO added that municipal staff currently have little capacity to tackle a bylaw of this nature anyway.

Even if a bylaw was crafted in the future, the logistics of monitoring the large swaths of Crown land on Bowen pose a practical problem. Edwards says many of the reports he receives of Crown land camping take place at the summit of Mount Gardner, which would require staff to travel up the mountain to enforce. Others lie deep in the woods or other remote areas, and would be difficult and time-consuming to access.

Metro Vancouver staff have run into the same issue with campers on their land, including Crippen Park, according to Mayor Andrew Leonard. He says local parks staff have seen camping taking place, but are nervous they might “run into a shaky situation” if they approach the campers. Metro Vancouver employees stationed on the island do have the authority to issue bylaw tickets for unauthorized camping, but attempt to pursue voluntary compliance through education as a first step. 

For now, municipal staff will be focusing on signage to dissuade campers from setting up on Bowen, including postings at BC Ferries and other access points to the island.

Edwards added that while the municipality can enforce camping prohibitions on Crown land, campfires remain a provincial decision. As an example, if the fire rating were at a lower level and allowed for campfires, Bowen staff could not make somebody put one out on Crown land.

*Editor's Note: This article previously said Metro Vancouver Parks staff with the ability to write bylaw tickets were all stationed on the mainland. Regional Parks staff on Bowen Island can also issue tickets for infractions including camping. 

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